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It might be better to use 'out-of-court settlement of disputes' procedures (q.v.).
Time limits for bringing court actions vary according to the case. This question of time limits can be clarified with a legal adviser or at an office providing information on access to law.
See 'Jurisdiction of the courts'.
As a general rule, in order to appear before a court in Spain, you need to use a Procurador (procurator) to represent you and an Abogado (lawyer) to conduct your action before the court.
You can act without these professionals only when the dispute involves an amount of less than 900 euros.
However, you can submit the initial claim on your own behalf, but not bring further action if the debtor does not pay, through a special, fast process called a proceso monitorio (application for enforcement of judgment for payment of debt), which can be used when claiming no more than 30 000 euros and if you have documentary evidence of your claim.
You may also act without a lawyer or procurator in order to apply for urgent measures before the start of the trial. This applies to prior provisional measures in annulment, separation or divorce proceedings, aimed at providing more immediate measures for personal and financial help for spouses and children when a spouse intends to submit such a claim.
You should approach the Secretaría (Court Office) or the Registro (Registry) that the Secretario (Clerk of the Court) has set up under his direct supervision for that purpose. Only Clerks of the Court and the officials appointed by them may register the day and time of submission of claims, documents initiating the proceedings and any other documents that must be submitted within a fixed period.
In general, claims must be submitted to the Clerk of the Juzgado de Primera Instancia (Court of First Instance) having jurisdiction, or the official appointed by him. If there is more than one Court of First Instance in the same district, you must submit the claim to the Clerk of the Court of the Juzgado Decano (Senior Court) or to the official or Registry that has been established under his supervision and responsibility. The Senior Court will allocate the case to one of the courts in the district.
You may not apply to any other public body or to the juzgado de guardia (police court), for civil or commercial claims.
The Courts and their staff use Castilian Spanish, but in the Autonomous Communities which have their own languages (Catalonia, Valencia, the Balearic Islands, Galicia and the Basque Country), that language may also be used without objection by anyone on the grounds of their not knowing that language.
All other participants in the trial may use Castilian or the language of the Autonomous Community where the trial is held for their documents and oral statements. The court will appoint an interpreter if anyone does not know the language of the Autonomous Community.
If you have to use any other language because you do not speak Castilian or the language of the Autonomous Community, an interpreter must be present and the documents that you submit must be translated. (It should be noted that according to Art. 3.1 of the Spanish Constitution all Spanish citizens have a duty to know Castilian.)
Although legal proceedings in Spain are predominantly oral, you still have to make the initial claim in writing. This document is called the demanda (claim) and is very simple in cases when the amount in dispute is no more than 900 euros. You have only to enter your personal details, those details of the other party that are known to you, and precisely what you are claiming.
The law allows you to address the courts using any electronic, computer or fax methods as long as the courts have the technical resources to enable texts and documents to be transmitted and received in the standard way, such that the authenticity of communications is guaranteed and there is a record that they have been fully transmitted and received together with dates of same. However, the courts have not been supplied with the necessary technical resources for this option to be used.
There are forms for submitting claims for amounts of less than 900 euros, and for submitting claims through the special claims procedure called the proceso monitorio that you can use when claiming a fixed amount of no more than 30 000 euros and you have documentary evidence of your claim.
If there is no form or if you cannot use one, you must submit a document to the court called a demanda (claim), which in cases involving less than 900 euros is very simple as it contains only your personal details, the details of the other party that are known to you and precisely what you are claiming. In cases where the amount exceeds the above sum the claim is more complicated, as it must also contain a report on the facts of the dispute, the legal reasoning supporting your application and a clear, orderly list of the documents and other evidence being submitted.
In both cases, together with the initial claim that you submit to the court, you must enclose all the documents with which you intend to prove your claim, and the expert or other reports that you have relating to the dispute. If not they may not be submitted at a later date, except in very special cases.
Since 1986 all charges for any type of action before or by the courts have been lifted in Spain. The State does not receive any money from persons who use the courts.
However, charges may be made for obtaining uncertified copies of documents or instruments featuring in rulings, that are requested by the parties to the action, although such charges have not yet entered into force.
The lawyer and procurator cannot demand their fees in full at the outset. The procedure is therefore divided into phases and the professions may request from their clients a percentage of the fees for each phase once the corresponding phase begins.
In practice none of these professions tend to ask for payment of their fees before the end of the case.
However, as it is the procurator who has to pay to the court the costs arising from an action, he may request a provisión de fondos (advance) from his client in order to pay such costs.
The Spanish Constitution establishes that justice will be free to all those who can prove that they do not have sufficient resources for litigation.
Currently an individual is considered to lack the resources for litigation if his total financial resources and income, calculated annually per family unit, are not more than twice the minimum wage in force at the time the application is made. For 2002 the minimum wage is set at 442.20 euros/month.
The claim is considered to have been brought when, once it has been submitted to the office of the Clerk of the Court, the latter issues a decision admitting the claim, after verifying that the issue raised lies within its jurisdiction and objective responsibility, that it fulfils all of the legal requirements and is accompanied by the documents expressly required in certain cases by law. In some cases, before admitting the claim, the court must also verify that the case may be dealt with in the area over which it has jurisdiction.
Having admitted the claim, the court will pursue the case through all its stages, making the appropriate rulings without the need for any action on your part for the case to proceed. In particular it will be the court that summons the other party to trial and declares it to be in default if it does not appear within the period indicated.
You will be informed of the court's decision admitting your claim and all subsequent decisions by the court through your procurator, if you are using one, who will have to collect them from the office of the Clerk of the Court, or you will be informed in person if you are not using a procurator. In the latter case the court will send the notification to your home by post, enclosing a copy of the relevant decision. For this purpose, your address will be taken as that indicated in the claim.
If in submitting the claim you have made any errors that prevent it from being processed, the court will inform you in the same way. The court will also inform you if the error can be rectified and give you a deadline for so doing.
You will be immediately informed of any timetables or delays regarding your case, through the channels given under the previous question.
Last update: 05-06-2006