The Lithuanian court system consists of courts of general jurisdiction and specialised courts.
Courts of general jurisdiction
These courts hear cases arising out of civil-commercial law relations, property and contract law, family law and other civil law disputes; criminal cases; and cases on administrative offences.
Courts of general jurisdiction are divided into: i) courts of first instance – district or regional courts, depending on the complexity of the dispute; ii) courts of appeal – regional courts, if the dispute at first instance was heard in a district court, or the Lithuanian Court of Appeal, if the dispute at first instance was heard in a regional court; and iii) the court of cassation instance.
Courts of first instance and appeal hear disputes on questions of fact as well as questions of law and application.
The Supreme Court of Lithuania is the only cassation instance for final judgments, decisions, rulings and orders of courts of general jurisdiction. The court of cassation shapes uniform court practice in the interpretation and application of laws and other legal acts, hearing disputes only as regards the application and interpretation of law.
The Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania and regional administrative courts hear cases on disputes arising from administrative legal relations, namely, the legality and validity of acts adopted and obligations imposed by the state, municipalities and other institutions. Regional courts hear cases as a first instance, the Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania as an appellate instance.
The Vilnius Court of Commercial Arbitration (VCCA) is a permanent arbitral institution (institutional arbitration). Its main activities are: to organise and administer the settlement of disputes by arbitration; to organise and administer the settlement of disputes by other alternative dispute resolution methods (mediation, conciliation); and to perform the functions of the administering and/or appointing authority (for the appointment of arbitrators) in ad hoc arbitration. Arbitration deals with all commercial disputes, both international and national. It is a more costly method of dispute resolution but is much more efficient and completely confidential. An arbitral award enters into effect from the date of its adoption and may not be appealed.
Key aspects of litigation in Lithuania
Representation and filing of documents
Actions, complaints, petitions, applications and other procedural documents may be signed and submitted to a court either by a person directly or by a lawyer representing them. A cassation appeal to the Supreme Court of Lithuania may be drawn up, signed and submitted only by a lawyer.
There is an e-service portal for Lithuania’s courts which allows both lawyers and litigants to create an account and file all documents for a case electronically. In that way, clients and their representatives can see all proceedings, documents and court decisions for a case on the e-court system along with documents and applications submitted by other parties. They can thus promptly review and react to developments in a case and follow the progress of proceedings anywhere, anytime. Documents filed electronically may be submitted in docx, pdf or other allowed formats.
Procedural documents are subject to stamp duty. The amount varies according to the substance of the claim. In property disputes before courts of general jurisdiction, the maximum stamp duty is €15,000 per claim. Courts of specialised jurisdiction have a fixed stamp duty of €30. Appeals and cassation appeals are subject to the same-size stamp duty as the claim.
If an action, appeal or cassation appeal is upheld, the unsuccessful party is required by the court to pay the stamp duty, costs of experts and costs of legal assistance. Exceptionally, courts may determine that claimed costs are unreasonable and may reduce them and order the unsuccessful party to pay only part of the costs.
The court process
The procedural documents to be submitted in disputes before a court of general jurisdiction are the application, defence, reply, rejoinder and surrejoinder. For lodging a statement of defence, the court may fix a time limit of 14 to 60 days, or longer in exceptional circumstances, while for lodging a rejoinder or a surrejoinder a limit of 14 days is set. Once these documents are filed, the court convenes a preparatory hearing or a hearing on the substance. Depending on the complexity of the case, the court may schedule more than one hearing.
Important: parties to proceedings must submit all evidence, documents, explanations, and requests for examination of witnesses, appointment of experts, etc, before a hearing on the substance is scheduled. Additions to the case material may be made later only by exception and on the grounds that it was not possible earlier. In appeal proceedings too, courts accept new evidence and documents only in exceptional circumstances.
Court hearings in Lithuania are usually held orally, with the parties appearing in court. However, in view of the risks of the Covid pandemic and with the consent of the parties to the proceedings, court hearings can also be held remotely via Zoom. This practice has become very popular recently and will likely continue even after the risks of the pandemic have passed. Remote proceedings are especially convenient for persons who are outside Lithuania at the time of a hearing and enable the parties to save time and money.
Appeals of decisions of courts of general jurisdiction and specialised courts must be lodged within 30 days of their delivery. A cassation appeal may be lodged with the Supreme Court of Lithuania within three months of the decision of the court of appeal.
Judgments which are not appealed become final and enforceable. If an appeal is lodged, the judgment becomes final and binding on the day on which the final ruling of the court of appeal is delivered.
Legal remedies available to courts
Courts may impose special remedies to secure property claims, such as the arrest of movable/immovable property or bank accounts. To secure other claims, courts may order a party to the proceedings to perform or to cease certain acts and they may also impose other measures.
The time it takes to hear a case
Cases concerning the award of debts, the termination or modification of contractual relations, damages, etc are normally dealt with in 12-16 months at first instance and 8-10 months at appeal. Complex commercial disputes can take approximately 24 months at first instance and 12-14 months at appeal.
For claims based on documents (a contract, transfer and acceptance certificates for work or goods, invoices), debt recovery proceedings can be dealt with in summary and accelerated proceedings, whether by means of a court order for debt recovery or by documentary proceedings. For injunctions, hearing a case takes about 30 days if the other party does not lodge an objection. Documentary proceedings take about six months.
TGS Baltic’s experience and value
The TGS Baltic law firm has an active litigation practice conducted by a team of more than 30 specialists. The firm’s lawyers have represented clients in many high-profile cases which have shaped or changed judicial practice in Lithuania with regard to contract termination and modification, the award of debts and damages, the quality of merchandise, work or manufactured items, transport relations, the liability of managers and shareholders, and awards of damages to creditors in the event of a debtor’s bankruptcy. The firm’s clients include Lithuania’s largest companies along with well-known international companies.