Accelerating Civil Proceedings in Croatia
Until the 2003 Amendments, secondary appeal was admissible only if a set of conditions provided by the law was met, e.g., with respect to the amount in dispute or the type of case. The Supreme Court could neither admit cases not covered by those conditions, nor refuse to hear a case if it was admissible under the express rules of the law. The Amendments have for the first time introduced a discretionary power to decide on the admissibility of revision. This power is provided only in a positive, not in a negative direction, i.e., the court can decide to hear a case if it would otherwise not be admissible, ‘if the decision on the merits depends on the so- lution of some issue of substantive or procedural law that is important for harmo- nizing the application of the law and/or the equality of the citizens’.60 The justifica- tion for introducing such a discretionary power was found in the constitutional po- sition of the highest Croatian court that, among other things, should also take care for the uniform application of the law. Although the official explanation of the new rules emphasizes the reaffirmation of the constitutional powers of the Supreme Court as the only goal, pointing to similar Austrian models,61 it seems likely that some other factors also contributed to the widening of the scope of ‘revisable’ cases. Part of the motive may be that in 1999, under previous changes in the Procedural Code, the monetary thresholds for this remedy were raised considerably, allowing only the most valuable cases to be heard.62 An impression was thereby created in certain circles that a majority of cases remained outside the reach of the third in- stance, and as a reaction, a way to loosen the tight rules was found.
While the new provisions might contribute to the harmonizing activities of the Supreme Court in certain cases, certain doubts remain as to the application of the certiorari system. The bill presented to Parliament provided that the Supreme Court was to decide on the admissibility of this recourse. However, at the last moment, the provision was altered, so that leave to apply for revision must now be obtained from the appellate courts, i.e., the very judges who passed the judgment. It seems that the change was prompted by the fear that new ‘exceptional’ revisions would slow down, or even block, the Supreme Court’s activities. However, since the deci- sion lies with the appellate courts only now, new dangers loom in that the various courts and judges will have different approaches. The outcome cannot be predicted and might range from a total absence of admissible cases to a great influx (or even a flood) of new ‘revisions’.
In this text I have provided an account of recent efforts to accelerate civil proceed- ings in Croatia, focusing on the reform of civil procedural law. However, this analy- sis of the legislative reforms and their background may demonstrate another fact:
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Amended text of Article 382, paragraph 2 Code of Civil Procedure. See Explanatory Notes, at 2(II). By amendments from 1999 (Official Gazette 112/99) the threshold of admissibility was raised from 3.000 Croatian Kunas to 100.000 Croatian Kunas (from € 400 to over € 13.000) and in commercial disputes from 8.000 Croatian Kunas to 500.000 Croatian Kunas (from about € 1000 to almost € 70.000).