As of 1 July 2016, three new procedural codes were enacted, bringing about the most substantial changes in Slovak procedural law since the adoption of the previous code of civil procedure in 1963.
The most notable one is the Civil Adversarial Code of Procedure (Civilný sporový poriadok, "CSP"), whereas two other procedural codes (Civil Non-Adversarial Code of Procedure and Administrative Code of Procedure) regulate certain civil matters such as marriage dissolution and administrative matters, CSP is the current central civil procedural code. Unable to cover all the changes in their entirety, reference here is made only to the most substantial ones aimed at expediting trials and making court decisions more predictable.
The new procedural code stipulates principle of legal certainty must be observed, meaning that matters must be resolved in accordance with the decision-making practice of the highest judicial authorities. CSP thus lays down the basis for reliance on precedents in trials, such as Supreme Court rulings, which until now – despite being often cited – were merely of ancillary nature and there was no legal basis for the lower courts to be bound by them. This provision embodies the legislature's intent to strengthen predictability of court rulings and represents a very important new element in the Slovak civil procedural law.
CSP further introduced preliminary hearings in civil cases, meaning the court may order such a preliminary hearing prior to the commencement of a trial. Wherever possible and practical, the court will encourage the parties to reconcile or resolve their dispute via mediation, thus expediting the judicial proceedings. CSP also deals with frivolous lawsuits, meaning where a petition is clearly unsubstantiated, the judge may order the petitioner to withdraw the petition.
Substantial changes were also introduced regarding appellate proceedings. Under the previous regulation, a matter could theoretically be thrown back and forth between courts of first instance and appellate courts for many years – resulting in a very high average length of trials. An appellate court must now rule on the merits if the case has been returned to the court of first instance and repeatedly ruled on by that court.
The above-mentioned changes represent fundamental changes to the previous system of civil procedural law. Overall, the role of judges was strengthened by vesting more powers to them, such as the ability to order preliminary hearings. It will be interesting to observe how the courts will react and adapt to the new laws; either way they are undoubtedly an important step towards improving legal certainty and enforceability of law in Slovakia.