On 5 January 2017, the Supreme Court of the Czech Republic issued a statement setting out the rules for electronic communication between courts and parties to civil and criminal proceedings. Topics covered in the statement include transmission of documents to and from a court via data boxes and the necessity of an electronic signature on these documents. The statement also summarises and specifies the rules for such judicial electronic communication, which are enshrined in law, including the Civil Procedure Code.
All filings in civil proceedings (for example, legal actions) must be made in writing. This includes not only paper form, but also the possibility of submitting the same via fax or electronic data boxes through the public data network. In the last case, the document is submitted in the form of a data message. The parties to civil proceedings use the message to make declarations that enforce their procedural rights, fulfil procedural obligations, or have other procedural effects. The message must express the will of the party concerned. The same is true in criminal proceedings for the submissions of parties and other participants that have a position similar to a party.
Furthermore, in its statement, the Court addresses the duty to sign documents sent via a data box. In principle, each action toward public authorities should bear the signature of the person taking the action. With electronic documents which are sent via data boxes, the actual (physical) signature is replaced by an electronic one. Nevertheless, it is permissible to submit the document via a data box without an electronic signature if the document has been sent from the data box of the person taking the action (or his/her/its legal representative). In this case, the court does not require an additional submission in paper form bearing the party’s signature. If this requirement is not fulfilled – for example, if the unsigned document was sent from someone else's data box, the document must also bear the (electronic) signature of the acting person. The electronic signature must be "qualified" (uznávaný in Czech), i.e. it must be certified by authorities in such a way that, thanks to a private key, it is recognisable that the particular person actually signed it.
If the procedural action is taken electronically via a data box, it has the same effect as a procedural action taken in writing and signed by the person for whom the data box was established. If the person for whom the data box was established is a legal entity, a procedural action made via a data box has the same effect as a procedural action which is made in writing and signed by a person authorised to act on behalf of the legal entity.
The Supreme Court statement also deals with documents sent through a data box by a court. Written decisions, other actions and documents prescribed by law may be sent by a court in electronic form to the recipient’s data box. The following conditions must be fulfilled:
First, the documents cannot have been delivered during a hearing or criminal proceedings, and the form of the document itself must allow it to be sent electronically. Furthermore, it is necessary that the recipient has a data box available. If the court does not hold such information on the recipient, it is obliged to resort to another means of delivery. Such unavailability of a data box cannot happen retroactively. Also, there must be a natural person who is authorised or empowered to access the recipient’s data box. If the recipient is a legal entity and it proves that at the time of the delivery it did not have any authorised or empowered persons to access its data box and that it did not cause this situation itself, the effects of the delivery will not ensue.
If a natural person has set up more than one data box (for example, a data box for a natural person who also has one in his capacity as an entrepreneur), the document should be delivered to that box which reflects the nature of the document. This is not binding – if the court does not comply with this rule and the document is delivered to the inappropriate data box of the same person, the effects of the delivery will still ensue.
In practice, therefore, it is important to remember that submissions to a court sent in electronic form can be made without an electronic signature only if they are sent from the data box of the person who takes the action or his/her/its legal representative. Then the effects are the same as with submissions made in paper form with the party’s original signature.