The court system in Poland

What are the characteristics of the court system in Poland? What kinds of cases are heard by common courts? What do specific courts deal with? What is a commercial case? What courts hear commercial cases?

What are the characteristics of the court system in Poland?

In Poland there are two types of courts: state courts and arbitration courts.

The Polish state court system consists of common courts, administrative courts and the Supreme Court.

Common courts are divided into district courts, regional courts and courts of appeal. Cases are heard at two instances.

What kinds of cases are heard by common courts?

The jurisdiction of the common courts is very wide. It includes all civil cases, as well as commercial, labour, registration, bankruptcy, and so on.

The common courts are organised in divisions depending on the type of cases they handle (e.g. civil division, commercial division, commercial division of the National Court Register, land and mortgage register division, employment division, bankruptcy division, and so on).

What do specific courts deal with?

There are 283 district courts (sądy rejonowe) in Poland (often several of them in each large city). They act as courts of first instance in cases concerning proprietary rights (i.e. involving real or personal property, including monetary claims) where the amount in dispute does not exceed PLN 75,000. (In commercial cases, i.e. disputes between business entities, this limit used to be PLN 100,000, but the separate procedure in commercial cases was repealed for cases filed after 3 May 2012.)

There are 45 regional courts (sądy okręgowe), which act as courts of second instance hearing appeals against district court decisions. They also hear cases in the first instance where the amount in dispute exceeds PLN 75,000 (formerly PLN 100,000 in commercial cases), as well as special types of cases where their jurisdiction is founded on specific provisions of law (e.g. cases concerning non-proprietary rights, copyright and other intellectual property rights, unfair competition, and cases seeking to set aside corporate resolutions).

The 11 courts of appeal (sądy apelacyjne) act as second-instance courts hearing appeals from decisions of the regional courts.

The Supreme Court (Sąd Najwyższy) exercises judicial review over the activity of the common courts (and military courts). It exercises extraordinary jurisdiction in cassation appeals against final decisions of courts of second instance (i.e., the regional courts in cases of lower value, as well as the courts of appeal). It does not review factual findings. (Thus the Supreme Court does not receive evidence, take testimony of witnesses, or the like.)

What is a commercial case?

The definition of commercial cases was significantly modified in connection with recent amendments to the Civil Procedure Code. A commercial case is defined as a civil case between businesses (i.e. individuals or other entities engaged in commercial or professional activity for their own account) within the scope of their business activity. The definition of a commercial case also includes several specific categories of cases:

  • Cases involving corporate relations, or claims for damages against members of the management board of a capital company (limited-liability company or joint-stock company) for alleged infringement of law or corporate regulations
  • Environmental cases against businesses (to cease environmental violations, redress injury to the environment, conduct environmental reclamation, or enjoin actions threatening the environment)
  • Cases heard by the common courts pursuant to competition law, the Energy Law, the Telecommunications Law, the Postal Law or railway law
  • Cases against businesses seeking to prohibit the use of unlawful form contracts.

What courts hear commercial cases?

In the Polish court system there are no separate commercial courts. Commercial cases are handled by the commercial division of the common court.

Not all district courts have a commercial division. There is usually a commercial division in one district court within the region of each regional court. Each regional court has a separate commercial division. Courts of appeal do not have commercial divisions at all, and therefore commercial cases there are heard in the civil division.

A major change affecting cases between businesses went into effect on 3 May 2012. The separate procedure for commercial cases was eliminated for cases filed after that date.

Consequently, the district court now acts as the court of first instance in commercial cases concerning proprietary rights where the amount in dispute does not exceed PLN 75,000. An appeal against a first-instance decision issued by the commercial division of a district court is heard by the commercial division of the regional court. If a decision was issued at the first instance by a regional court (i.e. where the amount in dispute exceeded PLN 75,000), the appeal will be heard by the civil division of the court of appeal.

The existing organisational division of the courts has been maintained. A commercial case will be heard in the first instance by the commercial division of the court. If the plaintiff files a statement of claim in a commercial case with the civil division of the competent court, it will be forwarded to the commercial division. If the specific district court does not have a commercial division, the case will be moved to the district court with a commercial division, resulting in a change in venue.