Justices of the peace also hear appeals against rulings or orders to pay fines, but fines of over €15 493.71 are handled by the ordinary courts, as are certain major offences (Act No 689/1981).
In all these cases, formalities before the justice of the peace are kept as simple as possible. However, unless otherwise provided, the rules are those governing proceedings before ordinary courts. There is therefore no specific simplified procedure, but the formalities required for cases brought before ordinary courts are greatly simplified.
The value threshold is one of the criteria for determining whether the justice of the peace has jurisdiction. Justices of the peace are assigned other cases on the basis of the subject matter, irrespective of the value. Small claims are referred to local courts.
Is the procedure obligatory or optional?
As indicated above, the system does not provide for a specific procedure (such as an order for payment). Where cases are allocated among the various courts of first instance, some claims disputes are referred to the justice of the peace (who is not a career judge and has replaced the old magistrate) on account of their small value.
As cases are referred on the basis of jurisdiction (by reference to their subject matter or value), the rules on jurisdiction must be observed to ensure that there is no objection by the other party or automatic formal observation (Section 38 of the Code of Civil Procedure).
Can the parties or the court transform small claims procedures into ordinary procedures? If so, under what conditions?
This is not possible because the system is different. Where the rules on jurisdiction have not been correctly observed, the court will, in response to an objection from the party or at the court’s own behest in the cases permitted under Section 38 of the Code of Civil Procedure, the court will declare its lack of competence and the case will have to be taken up in the court designated as having jurisdiction.
Are there specific forms for use in small claims procedures? If so, at what point in the procedure? Is their use obligatory?
There are no forms. Where cases are referred to a justice of the peace, claims are entered in the form of a summons to appear in court at an appointed hearing. Claims may also be lodged orally. The judge then records them in a report which the claimant ensures is notified to the defendant with a summons to appear in court at an appointed hearing (Section 316 of the Code of Civil Procedure).
Fines imposed by a justice of the peace (e.g. in traffic cases) can be appealed against, with the appeal containing the information required under Section 22 of Act No 689/1981.
The summons (or appeal) must name the court and the parties, set out the facts and the subject matter of the case. To keep cases before justices of the peace as simple as possible, facts already submitted may be included and new information may be incorporated up to the time of the hearing (Section 320 of the Code of Civil Procedure).
Where the value of the case does not exceed €516.46, the parties may represent themselves. In all other cases they must be represented, except where the justice of the peace decides on the basis of the nature and seriousness of the dispute to allow the party to act as a litigant in person.
Where appeals are lodged against administrative penalties, the defendant and the authority that issued the order may represent themselves (Section 23 of Act No 1981/689)
Under the general rules set out in Section 182 of the Code of Civil Procedure, the court may give the parties time to complete or regularise documents that it considers flawed or to regularise the actions of the parties, unless such action is already time-barred.
Are the rules of evidence less strict than those applicable in ordinary procedures? If so, in what way?
The rules of evidence are no less strict. However, when it comes to checking estoppels, the fact that there are no formal requirements for bringing the action makes it possible to make preparatory inquiries and produce documents until the time of the initial hearing (Section 320 of the Code of Civil Procedure). It is also possible to adjourn until a later date in order to be able to produce further evidence and requests for evidence, but only on one occasion and where the actions of the parties have made this necessary.
Is it possible to follow a purely written procedure (instead of an oral procedure where the parties are heard)? If so, under what conditions?
There is no provision for a purely written procedure as justices of the peace are obliged to hear the parties and attempt to find a settlement.
However, failure to examine the parties is not grounds for annulling the procedure if no express provision has been made to this effect.
Are the rules on the content of the judgment more flexible than those applied to ordinary proceedings? If so, in what way?
No. The normal rules apply.
Is there any restriction on the reimbursement of costs? If so, which?
Decisions awarding costs are taken on the basis of the normal rules, whereby the loser has to pay the costs unless compensation is ordered in cases where neither party wins or where there is sound cause.
Costs are paid in accordance with set rates that take account of the seriousness and value of the case.
Is the possibility of appeal excluded or merely restricted?
The recent reform (Legislative Decree No 40 of 2006) amended the rules on contesting equity judgments (disputes with a value not exceeding €1 100) to the effect that appeals may be lodged only if procedural rules, constitutional law or Community law have been breached or the principles underlying the substance of the case have been violated.
The new provisions apply to all judgments delivered as of 2 March 2006 (Section 27).
Appeals may be brought against equity judgments delivered prior to that date before the Court of Cassation (within the time frame allowed by law) only if Community, constitutional or procedural rules have been breached or the principles underlying the substance of the case have been violated or where there are no or merely apparent grounds. It is possible to appeal against judgments delivered by the justice of the peace regarding administrative penalties only in cassation.
It is possible to appeal against all other judgments delivered by the justice of the peace.
See the pages concerning the organisation of justice, jurisdiction of the courts and bringing a case to court.
Last update: 20-09-2007