A brief look into the Greek Civil Litigation System
In Greece, commercial disputes of a substantial size are frequently settled by court litigation which is primarily governed by the rules set out by the Greek Code on Civil Procedure (GCCP).
Cases in Greece are assigned to certain courts according to their financial value or the court’s territorial competence; the latter is determined by the parties’ residence, place of business or by the cause of action itself. There are three types of civil courts of first instance:
One must be aware of is the limitation period that applies to bringing a claim before a Greek court. The limitation period is triggered either (1) the day following the day on which the cause of action arose or (2) the day the claimant either found out, or with reasonable vigilance, ought to have found out that a cause of action had arisen. The limitation period ceases to run when the originating process has been served.
Although the GCCP provides a general limitation period of twenty years, there are numerous exceptions to this rule. A five year limitation period applies in the case of commercial claims, professional fee disputes, motor insurance claims and torts while claims of unfair competition must be brought within 1.5 years pursuant to a recent amendment of the 1914 Unfair Competition Act law no.146. Furthermore, land possession claims are time-barred for a year while claims arising from a contract for national transportation by road are time-barred after six months.
Unlike in other countries like the United Kingdom and the United States, Greek lawyers are not solicitors and barristers but fall instead under the general title of “dikigoros” (“lawyer” in Greek); a Greek lawyer’s capacity to secure rights of audience depends on the type of court.
In order for a foreign lawyer based in an EU Member State to conduct cases in the courts of Greece, he must have registered with the bar association of the Greek town or city in which he will practice Directive 98/5/EC on the practice of the legal profession in member states. A foreign lawyer must hold a certificate verifying his registration with the competent authority (i.e. Law Society, Solicitors Regulation Authority) in his home Member State if he is to be registered as a practicing lawyer in Greece.
The client is obliged to pay for fees and disbursements and a court duty of 0.7% of the claim value (excluding any claims for interest) where the claim is of an executionary nature i.e. the claimant seeks an order compelling the defendant to pay a certain amount of money.
The law provides that the unsuccessful party pay the costs of the successful party Article 176 CCP although Greek courts frequently oblige the former to pay a fraction of the actual costs incurred by the latter. Greek courts do not award interest on costs although interest is payable on all judgements which order the payment of money at least from the day the action commences and possibly from the day the cause of action arose; the rate is set by statute at regular intervals.
Insurance is available for litigation costs Legislative Decree 400/1970 whereby the insurer contractually agrees to cover any future litigation costs of the insured either during the proceedings or by an out-of-court settlement. It is imperative that the insurance policy ensures that the insured can freely choose his legal representative.
Court proceedings in Greece are normally held in public. However, where such publicity would be detrimental to public order or moral values, then the proceedings are treated as confidential on the court’s initiative or at the claimant’s request Articles 113-114 CCP.
In the majority of cases, there are no pre-action requirements in Greece that parties should satisfy before proceedings commence.
We will now examine the key stages of civil proceedings in Greece in order to create a brief outline as to how a case advances.
Proceedings begin by filing an action document (‘agogi’ in Greek) which states the names and addresses of the parties and the particulars of claim which provide the material facts as alleged by the claimant. A list of the remedies sought and a statement of value, where money is being claimed, are also contained in the action document; the claimant must specify the exact amount sought at the beginning. The court issues proceedings by sealing the action document with its official seal and, on that date, it also allocates a trial date, which must be within twelve months of filing, to the action in question Statute 3346/2005. We should note that time stops running for limitation purposes only after the action document has been served on the defendant. This is of particular importance where the defendant resides in another Member State since, according to EU legislation, the service of documents is deemed to have been fulfilled only when the defendant has received such document.
In Greece, the only method of service is by court bailiff instructed by the claimant to serve the action document on the defendant. Service of an action document on a defendant who resides in Greece must be effected at least sixty days prior to the hearing whereas service on a defendant abroad or of an unknown residence must be effected at least 90 days prior to the hearing Article 228 CCP. It is noteworthy to mention that both the claimant’s and defendant’s pleadings are filed with the court on the same day.
The following stages apply only to the Multi-Member Court. After the action has been served, the claimant serves notice by which he invites the defendant to meet in order to negotiate a pre-trial settlement Article 214(a) CCP. The parties must meet between the fifth day after service of the action and the 35th day before trial. Following this, any person who wishes to obtain affidavits by witnesses serves notice before either a Justice of the Peace or a notary public. Next, pleadings and documentary evidence are filed; this must be done 20 days prior to the trial. The trial follows and it is effectively completed within the same working day on which it began. After the trial, each party files supplementary pleadings in which they respond to the pleadings and evidence of the other party or parties. There are two sets of pleadings: one is filed 15 days prior to trial while the other is filed eight days after the trial. During the trial, only comments on the testimonies of witnesses are examined in court. The judgement comes next and it must be drawn up and sealed within eight months of the trial Statute 3327/2005. The appeal follows and it must be filed within 30 days of the service of the judgement by one party on another or within three years of the day the judgement was drawn up and sealed by the court but note served on the other party. Finally, the judgement is enforced.
In respect of the Court of Peace and the Single-Member Court, all evidence and pleadings are filed on the day of the trial.
The following final remedies are available at trial stage: specific performance or damages, a declaration of the existence or non-existence of a legal relationship and the creation, transformation or rescission of a legal relationship.
Contrary to what applies in other jurisdictions, active case management and interim proceedings do not occur in Greek civil proceedings. Unless parties seek an interim injunction, there are no interim applications the parties can make. For example, statements of case are not made and summary judgement is not available. The only document that is required to be filed and served before the case reaches the trial stage is the action document. In the event that a cause of action or defence is unreasonable, ill-founded or indicative of an abuse of process, such an action will be rejected at the end of the trial and judgement entered to this effect.
In matters of urgency, a claimant may apply for an interim remedy e.g. where a claimant believes the defendant’s alleged wrongdoing may cause him irreversible ongoing damage prior to the trial. These applications are made to the Single-Member Court of First Instance and are usually made on notice, although an application without notice may be allowed in certain circumstances. The most popular remedies in Greece include freezing, prohibitory and mandatory injunctions, interim payments and provisional orders. If an injunction is granted prior to the instigation of proceedings, the court usually orders that an action be filed within the next month or else the injunction is automatically suspended.
A claimant may also apply for an interim attachment order to preserve assets pending judgement or a final order. Applications for such orders are made either to the Court of Peace or to the Single-Member Court of First Instance and are usually made on notice, although an application without notice may be allowed in certain circumstances. Provisional order may be granted on the same day where the circumstances are urgent. Litigation proceedings are not required to be in the same jurisdiction as the proceedings relating to the interim attachment order since an application for provisional measures can be made to the courts of a Member State, even if the courts of another Member State have jurisdiction as to the substance of the matter Article 31 EC Regulation No. 44/2001.
As an alternative to filing an action for litigation, the GCCP provides for the issuance of a payment order pursuant to articles 623 GCCP onwards. A payment order is essentially a judgement which is passed by either the Court of Peace (for disputes valued at €12.001 or more) or the Single-Member Court of First instance (for claims valued at 80.000€ or more). The Multi-Member Court is therefore, not competent to issue payment orders.
The procedure is as follows: The claimant files an application to the court for the issuance of a payment order, together with all the original documents that sustain it; these documents need to directly support the claims made by the claimant, without the need for the claimant to resort to further evidence i.e. witnesses. For instance, payment orders are usually issued for claims relating to checks, where the check itself directly proves that there is a claim against the issuer, if its issue date has passed and the bank has verified on the body of the check that is was not paid when it was filed for payment by its bearer. A payment order may also be issued in relation to the sale of goods. It is possible to issue a payment order provided the seller /claimant can file the original invoices, along with CMRs or bills of lading (confirming that the buyer has received the goods) that bear the signature of the buyer.
A payment order is preferable to filing an action, since the former is issued very quickly by the court (usually within two days to two weeks after filing). The payment order is considered an enforceable title, entitling the claimant to start enforcement measures against the debtor.
The debtor has the right to file a written objection against the payment order within 15 working days after it has been served to him by the court bailiff. The objection itself does not remove the claimant’s right to enforcement. If the debtor is convinced that his objection will be accepted by the court, then he must also file for interim measures. This is because if enforcement is carried out before his objection is tried, he will suffer damages, because he is pretty sure that his objection will be accepted by the court. If the application for interim measures is accepted by the court, then the claimant does not have the right to pursue enforcement until the objection is heard; if the objection is overruled, then he can pursue his claims according to the payment order.
In Greek civil proceedings, a witness of fact may give evidence orally or in written form. At trial, each party is required to have at lease one witness of fact giving oral evidence. The law provides that all witnesses giving oral evidence may be cross-examined. A witness of fact unwilling to attend trial may be served a summons by the party wishing to make the witness attend but, due to the fact that the penalties for not attending are so minor, such a summons frequently fails to achieve the desired outcome. Statements sworn before a justice of the peace, a notary public or a consul replace witness statements in Greece even though the former do not have the same significance as evidence provided by a live witness during cross-examination at trial. .Such statements are made shortly before pleadings and are filed with the court so they can be incorporated into the trial bundles. Three sworn statements can be submitted by each party provided a notice has been served on the other party at least two working days before the statements are to be made. In special cases (employment disputes and disputes concerning fees of certain professionals like engineers, lawyers and agents, the notice has to be served 24 hours before. Where the statement is to be made abroad, service of the notice must be effected at least eight days in advance. If the facts of the case are not proved by the evidence submitted to the court, the parties to an action or their representatives may be required to provide oral evidence.
The law states that the court may appoint an expert witness to give an opinion only where the court concludes that the issue requires expert knowledge and a party requests such an appointment Article 368 CCP. The parties appoint their own experts Articles 391 and 392 CCP and are liable to pay their fees. Experts are under a duty to provide independent advice or to represent the interests of the party appointing them; the judge decides freely on the merits of their evidence Article 340 CCP. The parties have the right to reply to expert evidence via their pleadings and supplementary pleadings while the court may order experts to give oral evidence, and thus be cross-examined by the other party, at trial Article 369 CCP.
If the court appoints an expert, the party that notified the appointment to the expert and invited him to swear an oath, pays the expert’s fees, regardless of whether this party requested the appointment of an expert or not Article 173(3) CCP. Such fees are part of the costs of the action that a party may recover from the other party if it is successful Article 189 CCP.
Since appeals can be brought as of right and therefore, do not require prior permission, judgements are often appealed by the unsuccessful party. Only final judgements can be considered on appeal. Interim judgements can only be appealed with the final judgement. Appeals of judgements by the Courts of First Instance are heard by the Court of Appeal. Appeals against judgements of the Court of Peace are heard by the Multi-Member Court. The Court of Appeal is determined on the basis of the location of the lower court that made the judgement which is being appealed.
We will now look at the appeal procedure. First, an appellant files a notice of appeal which stipulates the grounds on which the court allegedly erred; grounds of appeal can relate to both questions of fact and law. The filing of a notice of appeal must be carried out within 30 days of the date that the lower court’s judgement was served on the appellant or within 90 days of this date if the appellant lives abroad or is of unknown residence. Where the judgement has not been served, the notice of appeal must be filed within three years of the date that the judgement being appealed was sealed. Once filed, a notice of appeal must be served on a respondent who resides in Greece at least 60 days before the scheduled hearing of appeal. If the respondent lives abroad or is of unknown residence, service must be effected at least 90 days before the scheduled hearing date.
Finally, final judgements and first instance judgements that have been issued as provisionally enforceable can be immediately enforced. A certified copy of the enforcement order which is supplied by the presiding judge of the court that issued the relevant judgement is required in order to initiate the enforcement procedure. Following service of this order, no other enforcement action can be taken until three working days have passed Article 926 CCP.
The 1980 Rome Convention stipulates that courts in Greece, amont other Member States, will recognize an express choice of law in a commercial contract unless there are public policy reasons for not doing so. In particular, parties to a cross-border dispute can choose a particular court or courts to settle any disputes. Pursuant to EC Regulation 2201/44/EC, the parties may confer jurisdiction on a court or courts of a Member State to settle any disputes as long as the agreement conferring jurisdiction is in writing or other acceptable form and it is not contrary to special provisions applying to insurance matters, consumer contracts and employment contracts or to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts Article 23 Brussels Regulation. This may be done by prior written agreement or by the defendant making an appearance without challenging the jurisdiction of the court. Where an agreement confers exclusive jurisdiction to a court other than the competent Greek court, this agreement must be express. Exclusive jurisdiction clauses may be deemed invalid by a Greek court if the choice of another jurisdiction is impossible and/or results in a denial of justice.
An agreement choosing jurisdiction must be in writing and must define in detail the legal relationships to which it refers where it relates to a future dispute. We must stress that the freedom to choose a jurisdiction is unavailable in cases involving non-pecuniary claims relating to immovable property.
We must note that service of the action document from Member States can be effected on the service in the Member States of judicial and extra-judicial documents in civil and commercial issues or via the public prosecutor. If either of these methods is applied, a translation of the action document in a language that the recipient can understand must be included.
EC Regulation 2001/44/EC provides for the recognition and enforcement in Greece, among other countries, of judgements and orders issued in a Member State. The competent court which assumes the responsibility of declaring enforceability is the Single-Member Court of First Instance of either the place of residence of the party against whom enforcement is sought or the place of enforcement. In the rest of cases, a foreign judgement can be declared enforceable by a judgement of the Single- Member Court of First Instance provided the foreign judgement is enforceable under the legislation of the state where it has been issued and is not contrary to moral values or public order in Greece. In addition the unsuccessful party must not have been deprived of its right to defence and the foreign judgement must not conflict with a domestic judgement and therefore, creating a precedent in relation to the same parties. Judgements issued under EC Regulation 2004/805/EC do not need to be recognized and are directly enforceable.
The most common forms of alternative dispute resolution used in Greece is arbitration which is regulated by articles 876 GCCP onwards. Provided an arbitration clause exists in writing or no objection is raised by the parties when appearing before the arbitrator, then all private disputes (except from employment disputes and applications for interim measures) may be resolved via arbitration. Unless otherwise provided, arbitral awards cannot be appealed Article 895 CCP but can be annulled if certain requirements are metArticle 897 CCP. The role of the arbitrator is passive and the parties determine what documents are to be disclosed.
The parties agree the costs and expenses in international arbitration Article 32 Statute 2735/1999 and where such an agreement is absent, the arbitral tribunal allocates costs and fees between the parties. The costs in domestic arbitration are calculated as a percentage of the value of the disputed item or claim. Finally, the arbitral award determines who is obliged to pay the arbitrators’ fees and the costs of arbitration.
ADR does not form part of court procedures and therefore, courts cannot compel its use. Despite the lack of a provision imposing confidentiality in ADR proceedings, parties often keep such proceedings private and also incorporate confidentiality clauses in their contracts.
Among the most significant providers of arbitration services in Greece are the Institute for Mediation and Arbitration, the National Office of the International Chamber of Commerce, the Departments of the Athens and Piraeus Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the Association for Maritime Arbitration of Piraeus. The Ombudsman and the Inspectorate of Employment are the most popular bodies offering mediation in Greece.
Since the foundation of the Greek Ombudsman in 1998, mediation is being used more frequently as an alternative to arbitration. The Ombudsman undertakes to monitor acts and omissions by government departments and public authorities. Employment disputes are handled by the Inspectorate of Employment.
 Directive 98/5/EC on the practice of the legal profession in member states
 Lawyer’s Code
 Article 176 CCP
 Legislative Decree 400/1970
 Articles 113-114 CCP)
 Statute 3346/2005
 Article 228 CCP
 Article 214(a) CCP
 Statute 3327/2005
 Article 31 EC Regulation No. 44/2001
 Article 368 CCP
 Articles 391 and 392 CCP
 Article 340 CCP
 Article 369 CCP
 Article 173(3) CCP
 Article 189 CCP
 Article 926 CCP
 Article 23 Brussels Regulation
 Article 895 CCP
 Article 897 CCP
 Article 32 Statute 2735/1999