Longer period for reopening civil proceedings


Under regulations in force from 15 February 2017, reopening of a civil proceeding ended in a legally final judgment can be sought within 10 years after the judgment became legally final. The previous regulations provided for a 5-year period for seeking reopening of proceedings.

Under Art. 408 of the Polish Civil Procedure Code, in the wording in force prior to 15 February 2017, reopening of a civil proceeding could not be sought once 5 years had passed from the time the judgment became legally final, except for an instance where the party was deprived of the ability to act in the case or was not duly represented. The Act of 16 December Amending the Civil Procedure Code amended Art. 408 of the code, extending the period for reopening of proceeding from 5 to 10 years from the date the judgment became legally final.

The impetus for introducing this change was the Constitutional Tribunal judgment of 22 September 2015 (Case SK 21/14). The constitutional complaint considered by the tribunal in that case involved a situation where the basis for reopening the proceeding (invalidity of the proceeding because a judge in the case was recused by operation of law under Art. 401(1) of the Civil Procedure Code) was disclosed in connection with a judgment of the European Court of Human Rights which became legally final at the end of the last year of the 5-year period for reopening a civil proceeding, and the petition to reopen the proceeding was filed shortly after the end of that period. In consequence, because of the date of the ruling issued by the ECtHR in Strasbourg and the unusually short period for filing a petiton to reoopen the proceeding, the petitioner could not effectively exercise her rights within the statutory 5-year period.

In the judgment of 22 September 2015, the Constitutional Tribunal held that insofar as Art. 408 of the Civil Procedure Code did not permit filing of a request to reopen the proceeding more than 5 years after the judgment had become legally final due to invalidity of the judgment arising out of a violation of Art. 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights finally ruled on by the ECtHR, it is inconsistent with Art. 77(2) in connection with Art. 45(1) of the Polish Constitution. In the justification for the judgment, the Constitutional Tribunal pointed out that filing of a petition to reopen the proceeding by the recipient of the ECtHR judgment essentially depended on the length of the proceeding before an international body which the litigant had no control over. In the tribunal’s view, in this situation the 5-year preclusive period was excessively burdensome for the recipient of the ECtHR judgment and disproportionate.

In the judgment, the tribunal postponed the abrogation of Art. 408 of the Civil Procedure Code in the scope indicated in the judgment (i.e. the 5-year preclusive limitation on the right to seek reopening of a civil proceeding due to the invalidity of the proceeding caused by a violation of Art. 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights confirmed by a legally final judgment of the ECtHR) by 18 months from the publication of the judgment in the journal of laws. This provision ceased to be in force at the same time as entry into force of the amending act.

Introduction in the Civil Procedure Code of a 10-year period for seeking to reopen a proceeding not only implemented the judgment of the Constitutional Tribunal in Case SK 21/14, but also upheld calls for change presented in the legal literature.

Reopening of civil proceedings enables defective but legally final judgments to be removed from legal circulation. Therefore, the parliament decided that the new 10-year period for reopening proceedings would apply uniformly in all instances previously covered by the 5-year period—not only instances covered by a judgment of the European Court of Human Rights.

Under Art. 2 of the amending act, in cases commenced prior to entry into force of the act, where the 5-year period previously provided for in Art. 408 of the Civil Procedure Code had not yet expired, the new wording of Art. 408, providing for a 10-year period for seeking to reopen the proceeding, will apply.

Barbara Majewska, Real Estate, Reprivatisation and Private Client practices, Wardyński & Partners