On March 14, 2020, the President of the Spanish Government declared the State of Alarm (by means of RD 463/2020) throughout the National Territory, due to the exceptional situation of danger to the Public Health generated by the COVID-19 outbreak. Thus, the part of the legal activity of the country has been practically suspended, with certain exceptions.
The measures to be taken by the Government in this regard must be aimed for protecting the health and safety of citizens, minimizing the progression of the disease and strengthening public health systems, but also trying to mitigate the health, social and economic impact that this exceptional situation may generate.
From the legal aspect point of view the main measures are:
- The suspension of all procedural and administrative terms, what means that all these proceedings are actually suspended.
- The suspension of time bar terms and the expiration of any actions and rights has also been ordered.
These suspensions will be operative as far as the State Alarm is maintained, in principle 15 days as from the 14thof March 2020, but an extension is already foreseen.
The General Council of the Judicial Power issued two Orders on March 14, 2020, suspending all scheduled Court trials and all procedural deadlines except for Essential Services.
These adopted measures are immediately applicable since 14th March 2020, being applicable to the whole country and that will remain in force while the State of Alarm remains, that is to say, for 15 calendar days from their publication except if they are extended.
Likewise, the Permanent Commission of the General Council of the Judiciary, working together with the Ministry of Justice and the Attorney General’s Office, agreed on the “Essential Services” that need to be maintained during this State Alarm.
These “Essential Services” will guarantee:
- Any legal proceedings which, if not carried out, could cause irreparable damage.
- Urgent internments of article 763 of the Law of Civil Procedure (non-voluntary internments for reasons of psychological disorder).
- The adoption of precautionary measures or other actions that cannot be postponed, such as the measures for the protection of minors in article 158 of the Civil Code.
- The courts of violence against women shall provide the corresponding on-call services. In particular, they shall ensure that protection orders are issued and any precautionary measures taken with regard to violence against women and minors.
- The Civil Registry shall provide permanent attention during court hours. In particular, they shall ensure that burial permits are issued, that births are registered within the prescribed period and that marriages are performed in accordance with article 52 of the Civil Code.
- Proceedings with detainees and others that cannot be postponed, such as urgent precautionary measures, removal of bodies, entries and searches, etc.
- Any proceedings with prisoners or detainees.
- Urgent actions in the area of prison surveillance.
- In the contentious-administrative jurisdictional order, urgent and undelayable health entry permits, fundamental rights whose resolution is urgent, urgent precautionary and preventive measures, and contentious-electoral appeals.
- In the social jurisdictional order, the holding of trials declared urgent by law and urgent and preferential precautionary measures, as well as the processes of Files for the Regulation of Employment and Files for the Temporary Regulation of Employment.
- In general, the processes in which a violation of fundamental rights is alleged when this are urgent and preferential (those whose postponement would prevent or make very burdensome the judicial protection claimed).
- The President of the High Court of Justice, the President of the Provincial Court and the Chief Justice will adopt the necessary measures regarding the cessation of activity in the judicial dependencies where their respective headquarters are located, and the closure and/or eviction of the same if necessary, informing and coordinating with the competent Monitoring Committee.
To ensure that these essential services are provided, orders are issued, to keep the court buildings operational and open. This will be done, however, by providing judges with the necessary protective elements to prevent the spread of viruses, warning signs providing information on minimum safety distances, by promoting teleworking and, in the case of rotating shifts, special attention will have to be given to people whose personal characteristics may became more sensitive to COVID-19.
To conclude, we would like to highlight the fact that prior to the publication of these Orders on 14 March 2020, and in view of the exceptional situation of some different territories, some Autonomous Communities, in the exercise of their autonomies, took measures such as those established by the CGPJ, to eliminate the spread of the COVID-19 virus, for example, Madrid, the Basque Country or the towns such as Haro (La Rioja) or Igualada (Barcelona). For its part, the Royal Decree ratifies all the provisions and measures previously adopted by the competent authorities of the Autonomous Communities and local entities on the occasion of the coronavirus COVID-19, which will continue in force and produce the effects foreseen in them, providing that they are compatible with it.
It is also compulsory for citizens and legal professionals to interact with the administration through the usual electronic offices, by telephone or via email, reducing the physical relationship to the essential and unavoidable procedures.