On 24 December 2015, Regulation (EU) 2015/2421 of 16 December 2015 amending Regulation (EC) 861/2007 establishing a European Small Claims Procedure and Regulation (EC) 1896/2006 creating a European order for payment procedure was published in the Official Journal.
Amendments to Regulation (EC) 861/2007
Regulation (EC) 861/2007 establishing a European Small Claims Procedure provided citizens and companies all over Europe with a speedy and affordable civil procedure which was uniform in all Member States and in all procedural steps from the commencement of the procedure to the final enforcement of the judgement.
The procedure applies since 1 January 2009 to pecuniary and non-pecuniary claims in civil and commercial matters where the value of a claim does not exceed €2000.
Standard forms were introduced to be used by the parties and the court, and time limits were established for the court and the parties in order to simplify and speed up litigation concerning small claims.
The procedure is a written procedure, unless an oral hearing is considered necessary by the court. The court may hold a hearing or take evidence through videoconference or other communications technology if the technical means are available. The parties are not required to be represented by a lawyer or another legal professional. The unsuccessful party will bear the costs of the proceeding unless when unnecessarily incurred or disproportionate to the claim.
The judgement will be recognized and enforced in another Member State automatically and without any possibility of opposing its recognition, unless the defendant was not duly served with the papers of the claim.
On 19 November 2013, after its enactment, the Comission issued a report regarding the application of Regulation (EC) 861/2007. Although the Comission considered that the small claims procedure had facilitated cross-border litigation in the Union, it nevertheless identified obstacles to realising the full potential of the European small claims procedure to benefit consumers and mid-size businesses.
Based on the conclusions of the Comission’s report, Regulation (EU) 2015/2421 introduced the following amendments to the European small claims procedure:
- The value of the claim can now be up to €5000 instead of the initial ceiling of €2000.
- The use of modern communication technology by the parties and the courts and tribunals is encouraged in order to reduce the costs of litigation and the length of proceedings (i.e. electronic service when compatible with the procedural rules of the involved Member State, taking of evidence by videoconference…).
- The court fees cannot be higher than the court fees charged for national simplified court procedures and can be paid to the court by distance payment methods, i.e. the claimant will not need to travel or hire a lawyer for this purpose.
- A court settlement reached in the course of the European Small Claims Procedure is enforceable in the same way as a judgement.
Effectively, the procedure can present difficulties which may discourage claimants who are not assisted by a lawyer. In the first place, the claimant will need to find out to which European court the claim must be addressed in accordance with European law. Moreover, if the claimant has to file the claim before the Courts of another Member State, the lack of legal assistance may mean taking a step into the unknown. Furthermore, although the Regulation aims to reduce legal costs and court fees, the reality is that it will not be rare to incur in translations costs and run into unexpected difficulties that can turn the procedure into something complex if the claimant does not count with the appropriate legal advise.
Amendments to Regulation (EC) 1896/2006
The Regulation published on 24 December 2015 also introduces some minor amendments to the European order for payment procedure provided for in Regulation (EC) 1896/2006. Thus, when the dispute falls within the scope of the European Small Claims Procedure, this procedure will also be available to a claimant in a European order for payment procedure in the event that the defendant has lodged a statement of opposition against the European order for payment.
All the above amendments to both Regulations will apply in the Members States (with the exception of Denmark) from 14 July 2017.