This country-specific Q&A provides an overview of Litigation in Greece.
It will cover methods of resolving disputes, details of the process and the proceedings, the court and their jurisdiction, costs and appeals and opinions on future developments.
This Q&A is part of the global guide to Litigation. For a full list of jurisdictional Q&As visit http://www.inhouselawyer.co.uk/practice-areas/litigation-dispute-resolution/
What are the main methods of resolving commercial disputes?
The main methods of resolving commercial disputes in Greece are litigation and arbitration.
What are the main procedural rules governing commercial litigation?
The main procedural provisions for commercial litigation are included in the Greek Code of Civil Procedure (hereinafter the “GCCP”). Basic principles governing commercial proceedings in the context of the GCCP are: a) the principle of the parties’ control of the cause of action, b) the progress of the trial on the initiative of the parties having disposal over the object of the trial, c) the principle of the determination of the competent judge by the law and not by the litigant parties, d) the parties’ equality, e) the principle of publicity and f) the principle of conduction of the trial in good faith.
What is the structure and organisation of local courts dealing with commercial claims? What is the final court of appeal?
The structure of the Greek courts follows the rule of “two-instance jurisdiction”. That means that each commercial dispute shall be firstly introduced to the competent court of first instance (Court of Peace, Single-Member Court of First Instance, Multi-Member Court of First Instance). The party defeated on first instance (in whole or in part) is entitled to file an appeal against the judgment of the court of first instance, challenging both the legal and the factual grounds of the decision before the Court of Appeal. The decision of the Court of Appeal is final and enforceable. It can only be challenged before the Supreme Court; the Supreme Court does not however constitute a third level of jurisdiction, since it may examine only legal defects of the decision of the Court of Appeal.
How long does it typically take from commencing proceedings to get to trial?
Within the context of the ordinary procedure, a time period of 100 days is provided between the filing date of an action and the filing date of the pleadings (which is extended to 130 days in the event the defendant is a resident of a third country or of an unknown residence). Within 15 days from the submission of the pleadings the parties may submit rejoinders rebutting arguments introduced with the pleadings. The hearing of the case that follows is a rather typical process taking place within the next few months subject to the actual capacity of the court.
In the particular monetary proceedings (such as proceedings related to lease agreements or disputes arising from securities) the hearing of the case is set by the Court on the filing date of the lawsuit within a period ranging between six months and one year.
In cases, where the claim is proven by documents issued or accepted by the defendant, a payment order may be issued in an expedient ex parte procedure. Said order may be challenged by the defendant before the competent courts.
Are hearings held in public and are documents filed at court available to the public? Are there any exceptions?
The public character of the hearing is in principle mandatory in commercial litigation. However, the documents submitted by the parties are available only to the opposite litigant party and not to the public. Exceptionally, persons having specific legal interest on a case may receive copies of documents included in the files of the case by order of the judge on duty.
What, if any, are the relevant limitation periods?
The general limitation period is twenty years from the establishment of the claim. Shorter limitation periods are also provided. Indicatively, with regard to certain aspects of commercial claims, (such as claims for interest, claims of merchants for the price of their delivered products, claims for the payment of the consideration provided in lease agreements) the Greek Civil Code (hereinafter the “GCC”) provides for a five-year time limitation pursuant to article 250 therein, starting at the end of the year during which the claim has been established (article 251 GCC). Furthermore, particular limitation period is provided for claims related to unfair competition, whereby the relevant shortest period is a period of 18 months starting from the point that the claimant had knowledge of the act and the responsible person.
What, if any, are the pre-action conduct requirements in your jurisdiction and what, if any, are the consequences of non-compliance?
After the introduction of law 4512/2018, entering into force in September 2018, the parties are obliged to attempt the resolution of their dispute through mediation prior to the submission of any action before the court for certain categories of disputes (e.g. disputes arising due to violation of trademark and patent rights, stock-market contracts, remuneration claims of certain professionals, etc). For those disputes any action submitted to the court without the prior procedure of mediation, shall be rejected as inadmissible.
How are commercial proceedings commenced? Is service necessary and, if so, is this done by the court (or its agent) or by the parties?
The proceedings before the courts are commenced with the filing of the action with the Secretariat of the Court and the subsequent service of the filed action to the defendant. The service is carried out by a court bailiff on the initiative of the plaintiff within the deadlines set by the GCCP. In particular, with reference to the ordinary procedure, the action shall be served to the defendant within (30) thirty days from its submission to the court (the deadline is extended to sixty (60) days in case the defendant is a resident of another country or of an unknown residence). In particular monetary proceedings, the deadline for the summoning of the defendant to participate to the proceedings shall take place up until thirty days (or sixty as per above) before the hearing.
How does the court determine whether it has jurisdiction over a claim?
The jurisdiction over a claim constitutes a procedural prerequisite and is examined by the court ex officio according to the rules provided in the GCCP and the relevant EU regulation under consideration of: a) its subject matter competence and b) the territorial competence of the courts. The parties may agree, explicitly or tacitly, on the prorogation of the territorial competence.
How does the court determine what law will apply to the claims?
In litigation proceedings the rule is “iura novit curia”, i.e. the court knows the law. That means that the parties do no have to prove the Greek law, in the sense to provide evidence as regards the pertinent legal framework. However, in case the parties have chosen to submit their agreement into a foreign law, said parties shall provide experts’ opinion with regard to the foreign legal framework. In case no choice has been made by the parties and in the event that the relevant EU legal framework is not applicable, then the Court shall apply to the claim the law that is closer to the agreement of the parties considering all specific circumstances of the case.
In what circumstances, if any, can claims be disposed of without a full trial?
In the Greek system of procedural law the courts cannot dispose off a claim without a full trial.
What, if any, are the main types of interim remedies available?
The main provisions regulating interim remedies are included in Articles 682 to 738 of the GCCP (provisional measures).
The main types of interim remedies that may be ordered by the Court in commercial litigation are:
- Judicial security (Articles 704, 705 GCCP)
- Interim registration of a pre-notice of mortgage (Articles 706 seq. GCCP)
- Conservatory attachment (Art. 707 seq.)
- Custody (Art. 725 seq.)
- Provisional award of claims (Art. 728 seq.)
- An injunction regulating matters on a provisional basis (Art. 731 seq.).
After a claim has been commenced, what written documents must (or can) the parties submit and what is the usual timetable?
As regards the ordinary procedure, the parties have to submit in writing their pleadings and all supporting evidence and procedural documents (including the power of attorney for the appointment of the lawyer by the client) within the deadlines as per our answer to question 4 herein above.
As regards particular monetary proceedings, the parties submit their pleadings, as well as all supporting evidence, at the date of the hearing, and the file closes three days after the hearing date with the submission of the rejoinders.
What, if any, are the rules for disclosure of documents? Are there any exceptions (e.g. on grounds of privilege, confidentiality or public interest)?
Each litigant party shall disclose the documents it used or invoked in the trial (article 450 GCCP). Moreover, documents in the possession either of a litigant or of a third party that are considered useful for the purpose of evidence and have not been used or invoked shall also be disclosed (Art. 450 II GCCP), unless there is a serious reason justifying the non-disclosure. In particular, non-disclosure may also be justified in cases where the addressee of the request would be also excused if he had to testify as a witness, e.g. in cases of secrets that come to the attention of the person during his professional activity (priests, lawyers, notary publics, doctors, pharmacists, consultants of the litigant parties), in case of bank secrecy or in case of confidential information held by public functionaries, in case of personal data protection etc.
The disclosure of documents by a litigant party or a third person may be requested from the opposite party, either with a lawsuit, or with provisional measures or with his pleadings.
How is witness evidence dealt with in commercial litigation (and, in particular, do witnesses give oral and/or written evidence and what, if any, are the rules on cross-examination)? Are depositions permitted?
According to the GCCP there are two categories of witness testimonies in commercial litigation: a) oral statements and b) written sworn statements.
Written sworn statements may be submitted by the parties with their pleadings (articles 421 et seqq. GCCP) as well as with their rejoinders. Each party is entitled to submit up to five sworn statements with its pleadings and up to three with its rejoinder.
The latest amendment to the GCCP by Law 4335/2015 has significantly reduced the role of oral witness statements in ordinary procedure, since oral witness examination may take place only if requested by the Court, in case it considers is necessary. In such a case oral statements may be provided only by persons who have already provided written sworn statements.
With regard to the particular monetary procedure, oral witnesses may be examined on the hearing date, one for each litigant party.
Is expert evidence permitted and how is it dealt with? Is the expert appointed by the court or the parties and what duties do they owe?
According to article 368 GCCP et seqq. the court may appoint, either on its own initiative or following a request of the litigant parties, one or more experts in case it considers that there are issues of science or craftsmanship to be determined. In case of an appointment of an expert by the court, each litigant party can also appoint a technical consultant. The experts are conducting a report but they can also be ordered to appear before the court. The courts proceeds to the appointment of the experts from the lists kept at its seat. If no list of the expertise required is kept at the court’s seat, the court may appoint any person that is considered appropriate. Before the execution of their duties, the experts give an oath of diligent/conscientious implementation of their tasks. The timeline and the guidelines of their appointment are set by the court.
The evidence provided by the expert’s report is freely evaluated by the court.
Can final and interim decisions be appealed? If so, to which court(s) and within what timescale?
The rule is that interim decisions, in the sense of preliminary decisions, may not be appealed per se without challenging the final decision of the same court.
Final and conclusive decisions are, with some limited exceptions, appealable.
The deadline for the filing of an appeal, in case the first degree decision is not served, is two years, starting from the day of the publication of the decision by the first instance court. If the decision is served, the deadline is thirty days (if the applicant is a resident of Greece) or sixty days (if the applicant’s resident is abroad or unknown), starting from the day of the service (Art. 518 of GCCP). An appeal against judgments of first instance courts permits, potentially and on the basis of the defects challenged by the appellant, a re-examination of the case, in total, i.e. in all legal and factual aspects.
The legislator’s approach is different with regard to decisions of interim measures. Pursuant to the provision of article 699 of GCCP decisions accepting or rejecting applications for interim measures or requests for revocation or for the purpose of reforming such measures are not subject to appeal with only limited exceptions rather not applicable in commercial litigation. Interim decisions can, however, be revoked (articles 688 II, 696-698, 738 GCCP) under strict conditions.
What are the rules governing enforcement of foreign judgments?
The main rules governing the enforcement of foreign judgments are included in the GCCP (Articles 905 and 780 therein). In principle, foreign judgements are declared enforceable by the Greek courts if they are enforceable according to the law of the court which has issued the decision and they do not oppose to bonos mores or to the public order.
However, where EU regulations or international conventions and bilateral treaties are applicable, the provisions of the GCCP are applied only to the extend that the relevant matter is not regulated therein. The sedes materiae on the enforcement of intra-EU judgments in Greece is the Brussels Recast Regulation (EU 1215/2012) “on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters”.
Can the costs of litigation (e.g. court costs, as well as the parties’ costs of instructing lawyers, experts and other professionals) be recovered from the other side?
The issues related to litigation costs are specifically regulated in Articles 173-193 of the GCCP. The basic principle for the allocation of procedural costs is the “principle of defeat” (article 176 GCCP), according to which, the party who has been defeated has to pay the other party’s costs. The cost to be compensated include among others lawyers’ and experts’ (if any) fees (as regards lawyers’ fees the determination of costs by the courts follows usually the minimum fees provided by law), stamp and other duties required for the submission of the action, as well as any payments that were necessary for the submission of evidence. The court may, thus, “set off” the costs between the parties fully or partially, in case of doubtful interpretation of the legal rule that has been applied on the dispute (article 179 GCC).
What, if any, are the collective redress (e.g. class action) mechanisms?
Law 2251/1994 on Consumer’s Protection (as amended by Law 3587/2007) introduced as, an exemption, a form of “class action” designed to be initiated by the consumers’ unions aiming at the protection of the general interests of consumers. The union may claim the omission of unlawful actions against the consumer rights (as these as specified by law 2251/1994 as in force), the satisfaction of moral damages suffered by the consumers as well as the ordering of provisional measures to that end.
What, if any, are the mechanisms for joining third parties to ongoing proceedings and/or consolidating two sets of proceedings?
Third parties can intervene in a trial, to which they were not initially parties, in order to protect their interests either voluntarily, in case of a voluntary intervention, or involuntarily, as a result either of an impleader or of a notice by the party already participating in the proceedings. A third party can intervene either in order to invoke his own right claiming the object of the dispute for himself (principal intervention) or in order to support one of the main litigant parties (accessory intervention). A principal intervener is entitled to intervene at the first instance whereas an accessory intervener at every stage of the proceedings until the issuance of a decision which cannot be anymore subject to cassation.
As regards the consolidation of claims, the plaintiff can consolidate more claims in one action against the same defendant pursuant to article 218 GCCP, if the claims are not contradictory or incompatible (with the exception of subsidiary structure of the claims), belong a) (in total) to the subject matter competence of the court where they are submitted, b) to the territorial competence of the same court, are to be examined following the same proceedings and no inconvenience is caused.
Are third parties allowed to fund litigation? If so, are there any restrictions on this and can third party funders be made liable for the costs incurred by the other side?
Not under the Greek procedural system.
What, in your opinion, is the main advantage and the main disadvantage of litigating international commercial disputes?
Litigating commercial disputes in Greek jurisdiction is less costly in relation to most jurisdictions. On the other hand, the duration of proceedings may end up to be rather relatively extensive in some cases; however the legislator has succeeded in accelerating the procedure before the courts of first instance with its latest reform of the GCCP.
What, in your opinion, is the most likely growth area for disputes for the next five years?
We anticipate seeing more disputes in areas affected by the aftermath of the economic crisis, such as litigation proceedings for the collection of nonperforming loans being in the possession of the Greek banks or sold by said banks to third parties as part of their restructuring plan.
On the other hand, the Greek economy is reviving at this stage and there is a serious development of concession projects. Furthermore the energy sector is constantly growing in a very competitive market.
Last but not least, the rapid growth of internet poses serious challenges for the protection of intellectual property and personal data.
What, in your opinion, will be the impact of technology on commercial litigation in the next five years?
Technology has already contributed to the saving of time from the lawyer’s point of view (electronic submission of judicial documents or on-line monitoring of the dockets) but it is not expected to have a considerable impact for the client for the next 5 years.