Court Fees
Summons and Subpoena
Digital Formats

Several amendments to the Civil Procedure Code and other procedural rules were recently enacted in Portugal, with the aim of modernizing and speeding up the judicial process. These new laws entered into force on January 1 2001 and involve, among other things:

  • the simplification of the method of payment of court fees;

  • the simplification of the system of summoning or subpoenaing defendants, witnesses and other third parties;

  • the general principle of non-postponement of court hearings, the hearing of witnesses and experts by video-conference, and the hearing of witnesses by agreement of both parties; and

  • the possibility of presenting motions and papers by digital means (eg, diskette or e-mail).

Court Fees

The Code of Court Fees, amended by Decree-Law 320-B/2000 of December 15 2000 and by Portaria 1178-B/2000 of December 15 2000, has replaced the previous system, which involved payment of court fees by means of a court-issued bill (a kind of invoice), with a simplified payment system based on self-assessment and the payment of all advance court fees.

The sum that must be paid, whether as a preliminary or subsequent advance, is now calculated on the basis of a simple table, which indicates the cost of the procedure (from Esc750,000 or less to Esc40 million or more) and the corresponding value of the preliminary or subsequent advance. The basic value for 2001 is Esc16,000, which means that the values of the advances will range from Esc8,000 to Esc128,000.

The preliminary court advance is paid immediately before presenting the initial written pleading, or before filing a reply, an appeal or a complaint against the non-acceptance of an appeal.

In addition to the preliminary court advance, a subsequent advance is required. Proof of payment must be presented to the court within 10 days of receipt of notice of a preliminary hearing or a final hearing, or notice that the Appeal Court will render a decision.

All amounts paid as preliminary advances, subsequent advances and advances for expenses will be taken into consideration in the final calculation of court fees, which is performed as before.

With the exception of the initial motion or request, which the court will not accept unless it is accompanied by proof of payment of the preliminary advance, if failure to present proof of payment of an advance occurs, the court will ask the defaulting party for payment, together with a fine ranging from Esc16,000 to Esc128,000.

Payment can be made via:

  • electronic multibanco terminals (ie, automated teller machines);

  • Caixa Geral de Depósitos bank branches; and

  • home banking.

The receipts issued by the above services are valid as proof of payment for court purposes.

Summons and Subpoena

The old system of summoning or subpoenaing defendants, witnesses and other parties was the Achilles heel of Portuguese procedural law. It was a requirement that these parties be summoned or subpoenaed by registered mail, by personal contact with the court official, or by advertisements in newspapers. This could often take over a year for each party.

The court was also obliged to mail copies of all motions and papers to the lawyers of the other parties, a time-consuming process which delayed proceedings considerably.

The system has now changed in several aspects.

Firstly, all motions and papers are now to be sent directly from one lawyer to another. The sender must inform the court of the date on which it sends the relevant documents to the other lawyer.

Secondly, there are now three standard ways of summoning and subpoenaing defendants, witnesses and other parties:

  • registered letter, where applicable;

  • ordinary letter, where applicable;

  • personal contact between the summoned and the court official; and

  • personal contact between the summoned and the other party's lawyer.

Summoning or subpoenaing by newspaper advertisement is no longer a standard method. It is only to be used in the case of missing persons, or where their identity is uncertain.

In any event the summoned party must receive a copy of the initial motion and all related documents, together with an indication of the court where the procedure was filed and the time limit for presenting the defence.

In most cases, summoning and subpoenaing is done by means of registered letter sent to the defendant's home or business address, with subsequent notice of receipt.

However, in the case of payment obligations arising from a written contract, summoning and subpoenaing is now effected by means of an ordinary letter, without registration or notice of receipt, sent to the address indicated in the contract. A party is free to alter this address by sending a registered letter to the other party within 30 days of concluding the contract.

In the case of summoning or subpoenaing by means of an ordinary letter, the postman is obliged to fill in a declaration mentioning the date on which the letter was deposited in the letterbox.

In all cases where the summoning or subpoenaing by means of registered letter fails, the court will gather information from the Civil Identification Services, Social Security, Tax Office and Traffic Office. If all of these authorities present the same address for the summoned party, he or she will be summoned or subpoenaed by means of an ordinary letter sent to that address. If the authorities present several different addresses, an ordinary letter will be sent to each of these. In both cases, the summons or subpoena is effected.

Summoning by means of personal contact between the summoned and the court official can also be effected whenever it appears to be the most efficient and fast way to do it (ie, if the summoned appears in court for some other reason).

Summoning or subpoenaing takes effect on the date on which the notice of reception is signed in the case of a registered letter, or on the date on which the postman deposits the letter in the letterbox in the case of an ordinary letter. If it is not possible to deposit the letter in the letterbox (eg, it does not fit), the postman will leave a notice stating that the letter is available at the nearest post office. The summons or subpoena takes effect on the eighth day after the expiry of the time limit for collecting the letter.

Finally, summoning or subpoenaing by newspaper advertisement can still be used in the case of missing persons, that is, whenever the databases of the Civil Identification Services, Social Security, Tax Office and Traffic Office fail to indicate any address.


Until recently, the absence of any witness at a hearing - as long as this was the first date scheduled by the judge for the purpose - would involve the postponement of the hearing and, consequently, a second date would be scheduled. Now, as a result of an amendment introduced by Decree-Law 183/2000, dated August 10 2000 and in force since January 1 2001, such absence will not involve any postponement and the witnesses that attend the hearing will be examined immediately. As to the absent witnesses, the parties are allowed to replace them, to dispense with them, or to request the judge to schedule another date for their examination. The purpose of this amendment is to avoid the necessity for other witnesses to make more than one trip to the court.

With respect to the absence of a lawyer the hearing will be postponed only once, and only if the absent lawyer has previously informed the court that he is unable to attend. If this occurs on the second date scheduled by the judge the hearing will not be postponed and will go ahead, even without the lawyer or lawyers of the parties.

Pursuant to the amendments, in legal actions where the amount involved is less than Esc750,000 a hearing will no longer be postponed.

In accordance with the new Article 623 of the Portuguese Civil Code, witnesses that reside in a different judicial area from that in which the court where the action is pending is located are examined by video-conference. Alternatively, the party which has an interest in the testimony of the witness in question should present the latter in court on the day of the hearing.

Witnesses who are interrogated by video-conference should attend the court of the area in which they reside on the date scheduled for the hearing. The examination will be guided by the judge who is dealing with the lawsuit in the court where the action is pending.

Witnesses who reside abroad are always examined by video-conference, unless there are no technical facilities available for this purpose in their area of residence.

Finally, the law also establishes the possibility of "examination of witnesses by agreement of the parties" (Article 638-a of the Civil Procedure Code). This means that as long as the parties agree, it is possible to examine witnesses not in court but in the office of one of the lawyers of the parties. In these cases, the replies should be written in the minutes of the meeting, which should be signed by the witness and by the lawyers. These minutes should be provided to the judge before the hearing ends.

Digital Formats

Pursuant to Portaria 1178-E/2000, dated December 15 2000, from January 1 2001 all court motions and papers can be presented by means of fax, diskette, e-mail or other digital media. This will become mandatory from January 1 2003.

Each motion or paper presented by digital means must be also delivered on an MS-DOS-formatted(1) diskette or on a CD-ROM(2). All files must be presented in rich text format.

All courts now have e-mail addresses.

For further information on this topic please contact António Borges Pires, Henrique dos Santos Pereira or Luís Rolo at Sociedade Civil de Advogados by telephone (+351 213 712 630) or by fax (+351 213 712 631) or by e-mail ([email protected]).


(1) Microsoft disk operating system

(2) compact disk read-only memory

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