At the end of October, a new Bill for the amendment and supplementation of the Bulgarian Civil Procedure Code ("CPC") entered into force ("Bill"). The Bill amends and supplements the CPC in several areas including:
- Debtors' protection under enforcement proceedings – The Bill introduced a cap on the due state fees collected by enforcement officers from debtors. In addition, the scope of the actions an enforcement officer may undertake - and which are subject to appeal by the debtor - was extended to include also the request for an explicit appraisal of the assets of the debtor and also the possibility for the enforcement officer to refuse to do so.
- Summoning of parties – Among many changes to the rules for summoning the parties, the courts are now obliged to appoint a special representative for the defendant at the expense of the claimant, if the defendant was dully summoned but did not appear at court to receive the respective documents. The reason behind this amendment is an attempt to improve the defendant's protection in cases where they are not aware of the proceedings.
- Cassation appeals – The Bill also extends the scope of decisions subject to cassation appeal. Currently, a decision may be appealed before the Supreme Court of Cassation ("SCC") if it is contradictory to the binding case-law of the SCC or acts of the Bulgarian Constitutional Court or the European Court of Justice. The extended scope now covers also decisions which are probably invalid or null and void or are obviously incorrect.
The aim of the Bill is to improve the protection of debtors under enforcement cases and cases initiated by utility companies against consumers. The MPs claim that most of the measures in this respect will serve the desired effect.
However, a closer analysis shows that some of the changes are rather disputable and could have a potentially negative and harmful effect on the interest of the claimants and the creditors.
For example, the requirement to appoint a special representative of the defendant provides another vehicle for debtors to potentially abuse the process and delay the proceedings while incurring additional costs for the claimant. It is expected, by analogy with other similar provisions, that the claimant will be entitled to claim these expenses in the course of the proceedings alongside the other costs. However, the risk that the court will not award those costs still remains of course.
The Bill is also silent on the criteria related to obviously incorrect or probably invalid decisions. Introducing such new terms to the Bulgarian dispute resolution practice will require a deeper analysis by the SCC Judges without any guarantee of the actual extension of the scope of the cassation procedure.