Greece is a civil law jurisdiction. Laws are promulgated by the legislature and, under limited circumstances, by the executive. They are in the form of Statutes, Codes, Acts, Presidential Decrees or other Statutes and constitute the sources of statutory law (jus positivus). Additional sources are “the generally accepted rules of international law”, international treaties ratified by law and European Union Law (primary and secondary) superseding national laws. Custom is of limited use.
Greek courts do not have law-making powers and are not bound by judicial precedents. However, courts, in general, adhere to established case law and especially to the judgments of the Supreme Civil and Criminal Court (Areios Pagos) as well as those of the Supreme Administrative Court (Council of the State), which dominate the decision-making processes of lower courts.
Civil courts adopt an adversarial model, whereas criminal courts follow an inquisitorial one. Administrative courts adopt a mixture of the two.
The recent reform of the Greek Code of Civil Procedure (GCCP) has shifted the court's emphasis towards written submissions in the majority of proceedings, to expedite procedures in first and second instance courts. In the Supreme Court, however, cases are pleaded orally.
The legal process in criminal courts is principally oral; in administrative courts the rule is that submissions are always written and may also be presented orally, particularly in the Supreme Court.
Greece has a tripartite judicial structure comprised of civil, criminal and administrative courts. These operate at a national level with different territorial jurisdictions; no federal courts exist in Greece.
Territorial competence is established on the basis of the location of the residence of the defendant, where the disputed legal act was contracted, the location of the disputed immovable property, etc.
The GCCP provides for three types of civil courts of first instance.
In the second instance, the Single-Member Courts of Appeals (each consisting of one appellate judge) review decisions of the Single-Member Courts of First Instance. The Three-Member Courts of Appeals (each consisting of three appellate judges) review decisions of the Multi-Member Courts of First Instance.
The Supreme Court (Areios Pagos - Cour de Cassation) is the supreme court of the civil and criminal arm of the judiciary. It reviews appellate court decisions only on the basis of questions of law.
Civil, Administrative and Criminal Jurisdiction
Although no specialised civil courts exist, certain categories of general areas of law (eg, labour, commercial, intellectual property and matrimonial disputes) are assigned to specific civil court dockets. The possibility of assigning matters regulated by a specific legal framework (eg, banking, finance, capital markets, energy or telecommunications disputes) is under consideration. All shipping cases are tried by the special Maritime Courts in Piraeus, the latter being a major international maritime hub.
Administrative courts are subdivided into Administrative Courts of First Instance, Administrative Courts of Appeal and the Council of the State (Conseil d’ Etat), which is the highest court of the administrative arm of justice. If the Areios Pagos and the Council of State reach divergent rulings on constitutional issues, the Special Supreme Court, an ad hoc panel of justices, selected by both the Areios Pagos and the Council of State, resolves the matter.
Criminal courts include One-Member Courts of Misdemeanours, Three-Member Courts of Misdemeanours, Mixed Jury Courts, One-Member Courts of Appeal, Three-Member Courts of Appeal, Mixed Jury Courts of Appeal, Five-Member Courts of Appeal and the Supreme Court (Areios Pagos). Further, there are juvenile courts and special criminal courts which try cases involving offences by military personnel serving in the army, navy or air force (courts martial, naval courts, air force courts).
Judicial proceedings are open to the public according to the Constitution, unless an open hearing might insult bonos mores or public policy.
In criminal investigation proceedings, access is granted only to the persons involved and, if to third parties, only where they have justified a lawful interest.
With respect to court filings, the General Data Protection Regulation and the implementing Law 4624/2019 constitute the legal framework providing the specific legal bases and conditions for personal data processing (eg, data subject’s consent and the protection of a legitimate interest). While court filings and issued decisions were considered, in the past, to be of a public nature, data protection legislation and relevant concerns have, today, severely restricted access to any third-party court documents.
In order for a lawyer to be able to appear before the Greek courts, he or she should be registered with any Greek Bar Association. Escalation of the right to appear before first or second instance courts or the Supreme Court depends on the level of seniority of the lawyer.
An EU citizen may appear before Greek courts if he or she is a qualified lawyer in an EU member state, registered at any Greek Bar Association via the submission of evidence of a three-year actual and regular Greek legal practice (Presidential Decree 152/2000).
The notion of litigation funding by a third party is not conceived of, or structured by, any specific Greek legislation, though certain insurance companies offer legal-expenses protection covering the costs of litigation. On the other hand, there are no rules for restrictions on funders. A litigation funding arrangement could currently take the form of a loan arrangement combined with assignment of future proceeds from litigation.
In the absence of a legal framework regulating third-party litigation funding, there is no restriction as to the type of lawsuit that could be funded.
Third-party litigation funding could be made available to both the plaintiff and defendant
There is no minimum and maximum amount a third-party funder will fund.
Costs that third-party funders will consider could include all fees and expenses (eg, costs for legal representation, court fees and expert fees).
The Lawyers’ Code (ie, the rules of professional conduct and ethics for lawyers) provides that attorneys may, by specific written agreement, take cases on contingency. A contingency fee may not exceed 20% of the value of the case. If a client is represented by more than one lawyer in a single case, the aggregate contingency fees payable to all attorneys may not exceed 30% of the value of the case.
No time limits apply to obtaining third-party funding.
Law 4640/2019, which regulates mediation procedures in national and cross-border civil and commercial matters, introduces an obligation whereby, prior to the filing of any legal action, an attorney must inform his or her client of the possibility to resort to mediation for the resolution of the dispute (effective as of 30 November 2019). The acknowledgment of this notification must be signed by the client and the lawyer and then filed before the competent court, together with the writ initiating proceedings or the pleadings and in any case until the hearing of the case, otherwise the hearing of the action shall be considered as inadmissible. In the recently issued Judgments No 1044/2020, No 1034/2020 and No 976/2020 of the Small Claims Court of Athens, the provisions on the inadmissibility of the court hearing in case of non-submission of the relevant notification, were deemed unconstitutional.
Furthermore, a mandatory preliminary mediation session is provided, prior to their referral to the competent court, for:
The written notification of the mediator to the parties to hold the initial mediation session suspends the statutory limitation (and relating deadlines) of the claim. In cases of non-compliance with the above mandatory initial mediation session, the hearing of the respective claims shall be rejected as inadmissible by the competent courts.
All disputes in which the Greek state or any public entity/organisation is one of the parties, are excluded from the mandatory preliminary mediation session.
Furthermore, Law 4640/2019 provides a significant cost to initially resorting to the courts, namely a state fee (dikastiko ensimo) for all disputes falling under the jurisdiction of Multi-Member Courts of First Instance with hearing dates from 1 January 2020 onwards. This fee could previously be avoided if a lawsuit requested a declaratory judgment only, an option which has now been abolished.
However, the above law has received criticism from the legal community and it is highly likely that either the requirement of a state fee for declaratory claims will be set aside or that the provision will lose its retroactive effect. First instance courts have already ruled on the lack of constitutionality of this provision (Athens Multi-Member Court of First Instance 2142/2020, Thessaloniki Multi-Member Court of First Instance 5352/2020, Patras Multi-Member Court of First Instance 94/2020).
Other Pre-action Requirements
In addition, it should noted that, in principal, there are no pre-action requirements (pre-action protocols, letters of claim or pre-action notices) that parties need to meet prior to the commencement of proceedings. It is common for the parties to serve extrajudicial letters prior to the initiation of the trial assessing the possibility of prior resolution or settlement of the dispute.
In special proceedings, however, (indicatively, the order for the delivery of a leased property) service of an extra-judicial letter is required as a pre-trial step. See 7.1 Trial Proceedings for the two basic procedures.
The Greek Civil Code provides for a 20-year general statute of limitation from the occurrence of the unlawful act. However, shorter periods are provided for particular types of disputes. Indicatively, a five-year period is provided for commercial (or similar) business claims between professionals, starting at the end of the year in which the cause of action accrued. A similar five-year period applies to tort claims, starting from the date of the offence (or possibly at any later time when the injured party acquired knowledge of the incurred damage and the person liable for compensation).
The statute of limitation is interrupted (and a new one starts) each time there is a procedural action (eg, filing and service of a lawsuit or hearing of a case).
Consumers’ claims against the producer of a defective product are time-barred three years after the injured party has been informed, or should have been informed, about the loss, the defect and the identity of the producer.
Further, the general limitation period within which a buyer, whether a consumer or not, must exercise his or her rights from a contract for the sale of goods is two years for movable goods and five years for immovable goods.
Certain considerations are discussed in 14.2 Impact of COVID-19 in relation to the impact of pandemic-related legislation on statute of limitations.
Jurisdiction has several meanings under Greek law.
In one sense, jurisdiction denotes the general power of Greek courts to adjudicate cases as opposed to the courts of another country.
The concept of jurisdiction is further distinguished into:
A Greek court may adjudicate a case only when it has both subject-matter and territorial jurisdiction.
As a general rule, territorial jurisdiction over civil cases is determined by the domicile of the defendant (regardless of the defendant’s nationality). Depending on the nature of the dispute, jurisdiction may be determined by other factors such as, the place of the tortuous act, the location of real property, the nature of a claim as auxiliary, etc. Some of these jurisdictional bases may be exclusive and force the plaintiff to bring the action in the court of a specific district (eg, actions regarding interests in real property must be adjudicated by the court sitting in the district where the real property is located). Other jurisdictional bases allow the plaintiff to choose between the court sitting in the district of the defendant’s domicile and courts of other districts (eg, the court of the district where tortuous conduct took place). In disputes arising out of, or in connection with, a contract involving a clause on jurisdiction, Greek courts will review the validity and effect of this clause on jurisdiction.
A lawsuit is initiated by filing a written pleading (complaint) with the court in which the action is brought (physically or electronically) and a copy thereof is served on the defendant. The initial complaint must state, in detail, the facts of the case in a manner that justifies an actionable claim by the plaintiff against the defendant. The complaint need not specify the underlying legal provision of the lawsuit because of the principle jura novit curia (the judge knows the law). However, it is standard practice that the applicable legal provisions are also laid out in detail in a lawsuit. The complaint should specify with clarity and precision the relief sought, whether monetary or non-monetary. As a general rule, the initial pleading may not be amended once filed, except for minor clarifications or amendments which do not alter the factual basis of the dispute. After the filing of the lawsuit, the plaintiff may limit the scope of the relief sought or request the issuance of a declaratory judgment through oral declaration during the hearing and/or through his or her written submissions, which are filed before the first hearing of the case.
Service in Greece is performed through a court bailiff, who is considered a public officer, instructed by the claimant to serve the lawsuit on the defendant. Service on a defendant residing or based abroad is conducted via a court bailiff serving the action on the Public Prosecutor with an official translation.
The date of service is when the claim has been physically delivered to the defendant or a suitable person (eg, a family member). In case of service abroad through the Public Prosecutor channel (in the capacity of transmitting authority), the basic rule is that service should be considered performed when actual delivery has happened. The legal community is divided as to the proper date of service (ie, the date of service to the Public Prosecutor (notional service) or the date of actual service to the defendant abroad (actual service)), when taking into consideration Article 10 of Regulation (EC) No 1393/2007 providing for a certificate of completion upon completion of the formalities of the service. Recent amendments in local procedural law provide for the dismissal of a lawsuit if it is not timely served.
An action must be served to the defendant within 30 days from the date it was lodged and within 60 days if the defendant or any co-defendant(s) reside(s) abroad, or if they are persons of unknown residence. Unless timely served, an action is considered as never lodged.
If a defendant fails to respond to a lawsuit, although the lawsuit has been duly served, he or she shall be treated as absent from the trial and the court shall issue a default judgment against him or her.
Class action proceedings, collective claims and class actions are not generally provided in Greek law.
Exceptionally, consumer protection law provides that consumer associations (constituted as unions) aiming at protecting the rights and interests of consumers are entitled to represent consumers in court and file representative collective actions. This may be effected by a consumer union of at least 500 members, duly registered in the Registry of Consumer Unions for at least one year, which can file an action of any kind for the protection of the general interests of consumers, provided that the illegal behaviour in question infringes the rights of, at least, 30 consumers, without distinguishing between members and non-members.
There are four types of class action that can be brought by consumer associations seeking the following.
There is no requirement to provide clients with a cost estimate at the outset of potential litigation, it is at the discretion of counsel. Ethical rules for lawyers, however, may be construed to include this obligation, especially when extraordinarily high costs may be anticipated.
A claimant is entitled to apply for a pre-action interim remedy prior to the court hearing if there is an urgent need to do so or an imminent danger to the object of the claim that could cause the claimant irreparable damage. The GCCP provides specifically for provisory and conservative measures (injunction measures in general) that constitute interim provisions of judicial protection, including:
Regulation (EU) No 655/2014 provides for the option of issuing a European Account Preservation Order.
No early judgment applications are provided for.
The Greek legal system does not recognise dispositive motions (eg, motions to dismiss or for summary judgment) before a trial.
Third parties are entitled to join a lawsuit through the mechanisms of intervention, request for joinder and announcement of the dispute.
Intervention is available to a third party having a lawful interest in a case pending between others and may be exercised in two forms:
Request for joinder of third parties may be exercised exclusively in three circumstances and by specific persons.
The court may also order, ex officio, the request for joinder of a third party where it rules that the party should participate in the dispute. Following the request for joinder, the third party becomes a litigant party in the dispute regardless of its actual participation in the proceedings.
A party having a lawful interest may announce a pending dispute to a third party until the court of first instance issues a final judgment on the merits. The announcement of the dispute differs from the request for joinder on the basis of its scope (not limited), aim (only for information purposes without the third party being joined to the proceedings) and consequences. A third party, to whom the dispute is announced, is entitled to participate in the trial by filing an intervention. A third party, who does not participate in a trial although the dispute was announced to him/her before the hearing, is not entitled to file a third-party appeal against the judgment to be issued.
The deadlines for filing of the described third-party motions generally range from 30-90 days.
A defendant may apply to the court for security for legal costs if there is an obvious risk that a claimant shall not honour an adjudication of costs.
The party filing an application for provisional measures pays its costs in advance. The losing party is usually ordered by the court to pay the costs of the winning party.
The hearing for a petition for provisional measures shall be usually set within one month or more (depending on the Court’s caseload) from the filing of the petition. A temporary order request may be granted within three days of the submission of the petition.
As a general rule, discovery, literally "proof" in Greek, (ie, the burden of proof of an allegation in a claim, counterclaim, objection or counter-objection) lies on the party invoking the respective factual allegation. Therefore, each respective party is obliged to produce both documents and witnesses (in court or through an affidavit) in order to prove its arguments. The initiative on which means of proof maybe produced lies mainly with the parties, though the court may order the production of specific pieces of evidence or an expert opinion to supplement the evidence. The number of witnesses may not exceed five in large cases, while in smaller claims the number is one or two. There is no other mechanism to curb the discovery process and its attendant costs, other than the fact that parties are obliged to produce all their evidence before the moment of their first written submission of pleadings, with very limited possibility to supplement thereafter.
It is possible to obtain discovery from third parties not named as plaintiff/claimant if a party can demonstrate to the court that there is evidence in the possession of that third party which is important for the assessment of the case. If urgent, this request may be submitted through provisional measures proceedings.
There is a general principle that parties are bound by a “duty of truth” which may mean that they are obliged to reveal the whole truth of their case before the court. This obligation is, however, practically mitigated by the adversarial model of litigating, which means that each party shall invoke evidence where it favours that party's position and will only rebut possible counter-arguments and evidence produced against that party. Also, evidence, once produced by either party, becomes common to both and can be used for or against both. Compelling a party to produce a specific piece of evidence does not form part of the ordinary discovery procedure but should be addressed through a specific motion to be submitted before the court.
In civil cases, evidence is produced at the initiative of the parties. Although litigants have a duty of truthfulness and good faith, there is very limited disclosure (save for specific requests by a litigant to the court for the production of documents) and pre-trial discovery in civil cases. Each party has the burden to prove the facts necessary to support their claims or defences and to produce the documentary evidence with their pleadings. The types of evidence are exhaustively listed in the GCCP. Apart from documentary evidence and witness testimonies, evidence may be in the form of expert opinion, examination of the parties and physical inspection of a site or object by the judge.
In new Ordinary Proceedings (see also 7.1 Trial Proceedings) witnesses and experts are not examined orally (with the exception of Special Proceedings, voluntary procedure or interim measures proceedings) during the hearing, instead written testimonies are provided prior to the hearing. Each party has the right to submit up to five testimonies with the pleadings, and three testimonies with the additional pleadings, rebutting the other party’s allegations in the pleadings.
A witness statement is sworn by a witness before a notary public or a judge in the Small Claims Courts or an attorney at law (the latter from 1 June 2020 to 31 December 2020 as per the newly enacted COVID-19 legislation). The party arranging for the witness statement must serve an advance notice (two working days prior to the date the statement is sworn) on the other party, who has the right to be present during the procedure. Failure of a party to serve notice on the other party renders the witness statement inadmissible.
The concept of legal privilege takes the form of protection of confidentiality and professional confidentiality.
Greek law recognises the concept of attorney-client privilege. The main sources of protection are the Greek Lawyers’ Code, regulating the legal profession, the Greek Lawyers’ Code of Conduct, the Greek Criminal Code, the Greek Code of Criminal Procedure and the GCCP.
Greek law provides that lawyers must keep confidential all information communicated by their clients and all information obtained when dealing with a case. Hence, lawyers may invoke legal privilege and refuse to testify in criminal and civil proceedings. The parties have the right not to produce documents with privileged information during proceedings. However, exceptions from legal privilege are provided for by Law 4557/2018, implementing European Directive 2015/849/EU, on anti-money laundering, should certain conditions be met.
All lawyers are members of the local Bar Association and subject to the same professional, ethics rules and disciplinary action with respect to legal privilege, notwithstanding their capacity as “in-house” or “independent” lawyers.
Each litigant has to disclose all supporting documentation with its pleadings and may request the court to order the disclosure of documentation in the possession of the opponent or a third party, unless there is a compelling reason justifying the non-disclosure.
Injunctive relief may be in the form of a provisional freezing of assets; an order to temporarily cease and desist from an action of behaviour; or, exceptionally, an order for specific performance. The court may order the defendant to refrain from a certain behaviour, engage in a certain action (eg, to enter into a contract or to deliver goods), restrict certain transactions, or prohibit a change from the status quo as regards an asset or a contractual relationship.
The party requesting injunctive relief must demonstrate, with a degree of certainty (but not necessarily full proof), that injunctive relief is necessary due to an urgent need for protection or an imminent danger that the applicant’s interest, claim or property will be prejudiced or frustrated by the acts or omissions of the respondent.
The plaintiff files a petition with the court and serves it on the defendant. The judge decides the location and time of the hearing.
In extremely urgent circumstances the plaintiff may request immediate injunctive relief from the court upon filing of the petition. The court has the authority to issue such relief the same day and following a very brief hearing, which may even be conducted ex parte (in the absence of the defendant). This immediate injunctive relief is very limited and remains in force until the hearing date, or the issuance of a judgment on the request for injunctive relief. In recent years, the backlog of cases for provisional measures has multiplied rapidly and courts proceed slowly with scheduling hearing dates and issuing judgments.
Injunctive relief can be obtained on an ex parte basis in cases of urgency or in order to avoid imminent risk. It is seldom granted ex parte, except in maritime cases.
If an action is dismissed as unfounded, the party who applied for injunctive relief is liable to pay compensation for the damages incurred by the execution of the judgment ordering the injunctive relief or the guarantee paid. This applies only if the applicant for injunctive relief was aware of, or ignored due to gross negligence, the fact that no such right existed.
The European Account Preservation Order is a mechanism for securing cross-border debt recovery in civil and commercial matters, in accordance with EU Regulation 655/2014.
Also, if jurisdiction can be established against a foreign respondent in Greece, injunctive relief can be obtained by local courts. This relief maybe enforced over local or foreign assets, through recognition of the exequatur of the local interim judgment or order abroad.
Injunctive relief can also be obtained against third parties. This shall be the case when a party requests, as a form of injunctive relief, that a financial institution (third party) seizes those assets of the debtor that are in its hands, or when a party seeks a garnishment.
Non-compliance with an interim order in disputes of a familial nature is punishable by imprisonment of up to one year or a monetary penalty.
The GCCP provides for the adjudication of private law disputes through the Ordinary Proceedings and Special Proceedings mechanisms.
Under Ordinary Proceedings, which have been recently amended to introduce a fast-track system, all evidence (including witness statements) is provided in advance of the hearing and in writing. A hearing is scheduled after written pleadings and additional/counter pleadings have been filed and there is no oral advocacy or examination of witnesses. Once they have timely filed their written pleadings and evidence, the parties are considered properly present. The Court will consider the case file and, if deemed absolutely necessary, the judge may issue an interim order for a subsequent hearing to examine witnesses.
In Special Proceedings (which include matrimonial disputes, property disputes arising out of lease agreements, labour disputes, disputes over the payment of fees and credit instruments, disputes over orders for payment, and disputes on the surrender of the use of the leasehold), other than the filing and servicing of the action, all procedures take place, in principle, during the hearing where the parties submit their pleadings presenting the appropriate evidence.
Greek procedural laws do not provide for case management hearings in any respect.
Jury trials are not available in civil cases, which are tried and decided exclusively by judges.
Under the new Ordinary Proceedings, all evidence (including witness statements) is provided in advance of the hearing in writing. In principle, the court does not perform oral examination of witnesses.
The court will consider the case file and, if deemed absolutely necessary, the judge may issue an interim order for a subsequent hearing to examine witnesses.
Each party has the burden to prove the facts supporting its own claim or defence. Only facts that have a material bearing on the outcome of the case may be the subject-matter of evidence.
Admissibility of evidence at trial depends on the type of evidence produced by each party.
Documentary evidence is admissible provided the document has been issued pursuant to the rules governing the specific class of documents (eg, the document was issued by the appropriate authority), satisfies all prerequisites for its validity (eg, it bears the necessary signature, seal etc), is legible, is not obliterated or mutilated, has no marks, and its substantive parts have not been altered in any other manner. Documents lacking any of the foregoing requirements will be inadmissible.
Only genuine documents are considered as admissible evidence. Public documents issued by local or foreign authorities (and bearing the necessary certifications) are considered genuine and therefore constitute full evidence, unless a party objects otherwise.
A private document will be admissible in evidence only if signed by the person who has issued it and the genuineness of that signature is not contested by the other party.
The court assesses all types of evidence freely and determines the truthfulness of each party’s allegations. Facts which are known to be true beyond any doubt are taken into consideration by the court without proof. The same rule applies to facts which are already known to the court from a previous case tried by the same court, as well as to facts which are common knowledge. Evidence submitted by one party is also taken into account for the proof of the arguments of the opposing party.
Expert testimony is explicitly prescribed as a form of evidence. The court may appoint one or more experts for the clarification and better comprehension of issues, where expert scientific or technical knowledge is required. The court is obliged to order expert evidence provided that this is requested by a party and the court considers that, for the matter at stake, highly specialised knowledge is required. The expert responsible for the required testimony will be ordered by the court on the basis of a particular experts list, which is available in every civil court. On the appointment of an expert by the court, the parties can appoint other experts as their own technical advisors to assist them. The parties’ technical advisors attend the same procedures as the experts appointed by the court and can state their own opinion either orally, at the hearing, or in an expert report.
The parties can also provide expert reports that refer to a particular matter and have been drafted at their own request, even when the court has not ordered expert evidence. Such reports, however, are not binding on the court.
Court hearings are, in principle, open to the public but deliberations for the issuance of the judgment are made in secret. The judge, who is in charge for the hearing, may determine the number of persons present in the court room and may order the exclusion of minors or persons behaving inappropriately. Court hearings are open to the public, unless an open hearing might insult bonos mores or public policy.
Transcripts of hearings are only available to parties of the dispute, their attorneys and to third parties provided that they have a lawful interest.
In Ordinary Proceedings the procedure is, in principle, written and based on the filing of pleadings and evidentiary material, without oral advocacy or examination of witnesses during the hearing. Therefore, the judge’s level of intervention is rather low compared to Special Proceedings where the procedure is mainly conducted orally (oral advocacy and examination of witnesses).
Judicial intervention is also at a minimum in administrative law disputes. The administrative litigation procedure is essentially written, notably at the inquiry level. During the debates, witnesses may be heard before the administrative courts of first instance, when they judge recourse to full jurisdiction.
The judgments of civil and administrative courts are not issued at the hearing date, but at a later stage when the judgment is issued and published. In criminal cases the court issues its judgment immediately.
In Ordinary Proceedings, after the filing of the lawsuit, the parties have 100 (or 130 in the case of foreign defendants or those of unknown residence) days to submit written pleadings and supporting documentation. Then the parties have a 15-day deadline to submit their rebuttals to the opposing party’s arguments contained in the written pleadings. The court will then set a hearing date and the final decision shall be issued within eight months from hearing, the latter deadline depending on the court’s caseload.
In Special Proceedings the court sets a hearing date upon the filing of an action. Besides the filing and servicing of action, all other procedures take place during the hearing where the parties submit their pleadings and evidentiary material. Within three working days after the hearing, the parties may submit their rebuttals.
Civil claims are generally freely disposable and therefore subject to settlement.
Court settlement requires a statement before the court, the judge handling the case, or a notary. The attempt to reach a settlement can begin after the initiation of the court proceedings, at any stage of the case, and until the issuance of a non-appealable court decision. If the attempt to reach a settlement fails, the court continues with the trial. If a settlement is reached, a note is made in the court transcript and the trial is terminated.
If parties reach a settlement other than the court settlement, the settlement agreement is deemed an “out-of-court” settlement requiring the issuance of a judgment so as to be vested with an enforceable title.
The terms of the settlement of a dispute can remain confidential upon agreement of the parties.
As per court settlement, court transcripts – including the settlement of a case, although not court decisions – constitute a judicial document that can be enforced.
As per out-of-court settlement, if the parties have an interest in vesting the settlement with exequatur, so as to later enforce it, they can submit the settlement agreement for court approval.
A settlement agreement may be set aside if the facts, on the basis of which the settlement was reached, are not true and the dispute or the uncertainty would not have been created, had the parties been aware of the incorrect basis of the settlement.
There are three forms of award available to a successful litigant: a declaratory judgment of a right or obligation of a party, a judgment ordering a party to perform a specific act, and a formative judgment modifying an existing legal relationship and creating a new legal status.
Courts may award damages up to the amount requested and proved by the plaintiff. The courts have no authority to award any amount beyond that threshold or any special damages. Courts may award pecuniary relief in the form of compensation for damages (ie, direct damages including loss of profit) and moral restitution. Only in certain circumstances may the courts adjudicate monetary compensation for pain and suffering to a limited group of people (ie, the close relatives of the victim of wrongful death).
The Greek legal system does not recognise punitive damages and, if damages of such nature have been agreed, the court mitigates them to the extent fair and reasonable.
All judgments awarding monetary relief bear interest. The debtor has the right to ask for default interest at the level set by law or contract.
The debtor, even if not in default, is liable to pay legal interest accruing from the date of service of the lawsuit or the date of the payment order for the debt that is due and payable. The percentage of litigation interest is 2% higher than the default interest rate. The latter is fixed periodically by statute.
As of the publication date of a final judgment awarding damages with interest, the percentage of litigation interest is 3% higher than the default interest rate.
An enforceable title is required for the enforcement of a domestic judgment.
The enforcement is exercised by an individual entitled to do so, who, on the official copy (apografo), gives the corresponding order to a bailiff and specifies the way in which and, if possible, the items on which the order will be enforced. In cases of seizure, a notary, where the seizure is to be effected, is designated.
Expedition of enforcement proceedings has been introduced via the simplification of execution proceedings, the consolidation of the judicial review procedure and the introduction of electronic auctions (Law 4335/2015, Law 4472/2017 and Law 4512/2018).
Special laws (eg, the Code of Collecting Public Revenue – Legislative Decree 356/1974, applicable in cases where the Greek state is the creditor/claimant; and the Legislative Decree of 17 July 1923, applicable when the creditor/claimant is either a bank operating in Greece or a corporation (Greek société anonyme or foreign company) that has acquired a special licence from the Greek state) mandate specific provisions for the enforcement of domestic judgments taking into account the nature and specific features of the creditor.
The procedures for recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments in Greece depend on where such judgments were issued, and may be effected under:
Where EU regulations or international treaties are applicable, they supersede the GCCP.
A foreign judgment can be enforced in Greece after it has been declared enforceable by a judgment of the Single-Member Court of First Instance. Its territorial jurisdiction will derive from the domicile of the debtor, or, if there is no domicile, the residence of the debtor, or, if there is no residence, the Athens Single-Member Court of First Instance will have jurisdiction. A foreign judgment will be declared enforceable provided that it is enforceable pursuant to the law of the country where it was issued and is not contrary to the principles of bonos mores or public order in Greece. In addition, a Greek court will refuse to declare a foreign judgment enforceable where:
First instance judgments are subject to appeal before appellate courts.
Small Claims Court judgments are contested in the Single-Member Court of First Instance. Single-Member Court of First Instance judgments are contested in the Single-Member Court of Appeals and Multi-member Court of First Instance judgments are contested in the Three-Members Court of Appeals. Judgments issued by the Small Claims Courts for minor disputes (eg, claims and rights on movable property with a value not exceeding EUR5,000) are irrevocable.
An appeal in cassation is possible before the Supreme Court, which examines only the legal correctness of judgments issued by the Greek courts of first and second instance.
Parties may appeal a judgment when they are wholly or partially defeated in the first instance and the judgment erred in fact or law. The party who won the first-degree trial may file for an appeal only if it has a lawful interest.
The decisions are appealable only to the extent that they are either final or refer the dispute to the competent court. The grounds of an appeal can be both/either procedural and/or substantive.
Enforcement of a first instance judgment is suspended during the time period available for the filing of the appeal, unless the first instance judgment has been declared as temporarily enforceable against the defeated party.
An appeal should be filed within 30 days from the service of judgment to the other party if the party resides in Greece or 60 days if the party resides abroad or is of unknown residence. If judgment is not served, the appeal can be filed within a two-year period from the date the judgment was published. Once an appeal is filed and a hearing is scheduled, the opponent has the opportunity to file (and serve) a counter-appeal, at the latest, 30 days before the hearing date of the initial appeal. Also, the party that filed an appeal may file (and serve) additional appeal grounds, at the latest, 30 days before the hearing date of the appeal.
The subject matter of an appeal involves errors of the first instance courts on questions of law and/or fact. An appeal in cassation to the Areios Pagos may be taken only for questions of law.
A re-hearing of the first instance judgment is only mandatory if one of parties was not present at the hearing before the court of first instance.
The appellate court shall only examine the grounds (their admissibility and soundness) that are presented in the appeal and not the first instance judgment as a whole.
New points, not explored at first instance, cannot be raised at an appeal.
No conditions can be imposed by the court on the granting of an appeal.
The appellate court shall examine the admissibility of the appeal, assess its grounds, and – if it finds them admissible and sound – shall retain the case and decide on its merits.
As per the established courts practice, if there is one defendant and he or she loses the case, the court is likely to order the latter to pay attorneys' fees (amounting to approximately 2% of the amount claimed in the case), plus any other court expenses, such as stamp duty, judicial stamp (amounting to approximately 1.1% of the amount claimed), translation costs, court bailiff costs and/or other expenses paid by the claimant for the preparation of the claim and/or the production of exhibits. If there are multiple defendants and they lose the case, the court may either order them to pay an equal share of the claimant's aforementioned attorney and court fees or allocate them to the defendants proportionally, according to their liability. Furthermore, the court may set off the attorney and court expenses between the parties, if the interpretation of the rules applied was deemed to be particularly difficult.
The unsuccessful party is required to pay both court and legal costs. Court expenses are “only judicial and extrajudicial expenses that were necessary for the trial” and in particular are: stamp duties; judicial revenue stamp duty; attorneys’ minimum fees set by the Greek Lawyers’ Code; witnesses’ and experts’ expenses; and the successful party’s travelling expenses incurred by attending the hearing. Expenses incurred through the party’s own fault or due to excessive prudence are not recoverable.
It lies in the court’s discretion to award expenses in whole or in part and to order the payment of these by the defeated party. It should be noted that Greek courts award costs that are usually substantially lower than those actually incurred.
Further to the issuance of the judgment and after the commencement of the enforcement procedure, interest applies to the total amount awarded, including costs.
A stable and increasing trend in the amount of domestic arbitration in Greece has been noticeable in recent years, demonstrating a preference on the part of sophisticated commercial parties for resolution of their disputes by alternative adjudicating bodies, rather than courts. Mediation is not yet popular but Law 4640/2019 aims to establish an attempt at mediation as a prerequisite to resorting to the courts.
Law 4512/2018 incorporated Directive 2008/52/EC for mandatory mediation in civil and commercial matters aiming to relieve the courts of the overwhelming majority of cases. However, its enactment generated a heated debate among local practitioners resulting in the suspension of its provisions pertaining to mandatory mediation, which were abolished by means of Article 33 of Law 4640/2019.
The enactment of Law 4640/2019 on Mediation in Civil and Commercial Disputes, as well as further harmonisation of the Greek legislation with the provisions of Directive 2008/52/EC, aims at expediting legal proceedings offering a fast-track enforceable title to parties successfully participating in the mediation procedure. (See also 3.1 Rules on Pre-action Conduct.)
There are numerous institutions in Greece offering and promoting ADR such as:
The framework of the new mediation regime has established a committee (the Central Mediation Committee) to, among other things, monitor mediation procedures and provide registration for mediators and for mediator certification entities.
Parties involved in international commercial arbitration proceedings in Greece can apply Law 2735/1999, incorporating, with minor amendments, the UNCITRAL Model Law as in force at the time of its adoption. This secures consistency with international arbitration standards and makes Greece an attractive arbitration forum for international arbitration disputes.
The Greek legal regime on arbitration is dualistic. Law 2735/1999 governs international commercial arbitration in Greece. Domestic arbitrations or arbitrations of a non-commercial nature (where Law 2735/1999 is not applicable), are regulated by the provisions of the GCCP (Articles 687-903). The GCCP may also apply directly or indirectly to international commercial arbitration if an issue is not specifically governed by Law 2735/1999 and vice versa.
Arbitration is considered to be "international" if:
There is no universally accepted definition as to the commercial aspect of an international commercial arbitration. As such, arbitration is mainly considered to be commercial when the dispute in question involves a transactional or economic matter.
Greece signed and ratified the 1958 New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards pursuant to Legislative Decree No 4220/1961. The convention entered into force in Greece on 14 October 1962.
Greece has made two reservations under Article 1(3) of the New York Convention, namely:
As per the GCCP on domestic arbitration, any private legal dispute, the subject matter of which can be freely disposed of by the parties, is in principal arbitrable. Any type of dispute failing to fulfil these prerequisites is not arbitrable.
Non-arbitrable include disputes include the following.
Disputes concerning IP, antitrust, competition, securities and intracompany issues to the extent they relate to matters that cannot be freely disposed of by the parties (eg, registering a trademark or patent) are not arbitrable, but are in other respects (eg, claims for compensation).
There are also special statutory provisions, especially in investment incentive laws, that allow matters, which otherwise cannot be freely disposed of by the parties, to be submitted to arbitration (such as tax disputes between the state and the investor).
Under Law 2735/1999, the above rule also applies to international commercial arbitration.
In international commercial arbitration, challenge of an arbitration award is permitted in exceptional circumstances. A petition seeking to set aside an award must be filed with the court of appeal of the place of arbitration within three months from the date on which the arbitral award was received by the party filing the claim.
An arbitral award is not subject to appeal. However, in domestic arbitration cases the parties can foresee, in the arbitration agreement, their right to challenge the arbitral award before a different arbitral tribunal, provided that they determine the conditions, time limits and procedure applicable to the submission and examination of such a challenge. Moreover, the GCCP also provides for the declaration of the non-existence of an arbitral award if:
An award will be considered final, binding and enforceable; and will give rise to res judicata on its filing in the Single-Member Court of First Instance (as per the GCCP) and publication (as per Law 2735/1999). Enforcement of the award in cases of failure to comply will be conducted on the basis of the GCCP’s specific provisions that provide for compulsory enforcement.
An arbitral award issued in Greece gives rise to res judicata and is enforceable in Greece as of the date of the award. Res judicata is determined in accordance with the provisions of the GCCP and concerns the merits of the dispute and the procedural issues that were finally adjudicated by the tribunal. Res judicata extends over the parties to the dispute and their successors. The only formality that must be observed for the enforcement of an arbitral award is the filing of the award with the secretariat of the Single-Member Court of First Instance in the place where the arbitration was held.
The most recent major reform was the enactment of Law 4640/2019. (see 3.1 Rules on Pre-action Conduct and 12.2 ADR within the Legal System).
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, a general suspension of all procedures within the Greek judicial system was introduced from 13 March 2020 until 31 May 2020. This affected court operations, procedural deadlines for filings, hearings as well limitation periods, with certain exceptions in relation to urgent matters (eg, where petitions for provisional orders were being examined).
All deadlines that would normally have lapsed within the suspension period were extended for an equal number of days following the end of the suspension. Moreover, an additional 30-day period has been granted prior to the lapse of any procedural deadline in civil matters following the end of suspension.
Cancelled hearings were rescheduled ex officio by the courts on the earliest possible date subject to the courts’ backlog and with priority within the time period from 1–15 July 2020, 1–15 September 2020 or from 16 September 2020 to 31 December 2020.
According to the Greek Civil Code, if an event of suspension (moratorium, force majeure event) occurred within the last six months before the expiration of the limitation period, the statute of limitations is extended. As a statutory moratorium was valid from 13 March 2020 until 31 May 2020 it could be argued that the limitation period may be extended in cases where a claimant was prevented, under the legislation related to COVID-19 related, from exercising his or her claim within the last six months of the limitation period of his or her claim.
The COVID-19 Pandemic and its Implications
Unsurprisingly, some of the most important trends and developments affecting the conduct of litigation in Greece during 2020 have revolved around the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Apart from the substantive legal issues arising out of or in relation to the outbreak (eg, the effects of the pandemic on the performance of contractual obligations and the claims arising therefrom), both the civil and criminal Greek procedural frameworks have been stress-tested.
The disruption of the operation of the Greek courts (the moratorium period)
As of 13 March 2020, the operation of the Greek civil and criminal courts was suspended (or, at least, significantly altered) for a period of approximately 75 days, as part of a series of governmental measures aiming to restrain the expansion of the virus. The extraordinary legislation introduced by the Greek government imposed, inter alia, the suspension of enforcement procedures.
The reopening of the Greek courts and the conduct of the enforcement proceedings
The reopening of the Greek courts (on 1 June, 2020) coincided with the enactment of a number of transitory procedural provisions (especially Article 74 of Law 4690/2020), aiming to preserve the procedural rights of the parties, while minimising the expenses stemming from the rescheduling of hearings initially set to take place during the moratorium period.
As a further exceptional measure, auctions of movable and immovable assets which were scheduled to take place during the months of June and July 2020 have been cancelled. Any claimant wishing to proceed with the relevant auctions had to file an application for the rescheduling of the auction after 31 July 2020.
Apart from the measures introduced on an institutional level, perhaps the most striking effect of the pandemic has been the overwhelming voluntary switch of legal practitioners towards modern procedural methods and mechanisms, which had been ignored prior to the outbreak, despite having long been available (eg, the use of the electronic signatures).
The service of documents by electronic means (new Article 122A of the Greek Code of Civil Procedure)
The outbreak of the pandemic has acted as a catalyst for the ushering of the Greek judicial system into the digital era. More specifically, by virtue of Article 67 of Law 4689/2020, the Greek Code of Civil Procedure (the GCCP) provides the parties with the option to carry out the service of documents by electronic means (new Article 122A of the GCCP), subject to meeting certain procedural requirements, briefly set out below.
The electronic service of documents must be carried out by a local court bailiff, certified for this purpose and appointed by the court in the district of which the person to whom the document is addressed has, at the time of service, his or her domicile or residence or seat.
The service is considered null in the event the court bailiff does not receive an electronic receipt within 24 hours as of the electronic sending of the document. The relevant electronic receipt must also be included in the bailiff’s service report in order for the latter to be considered as valid.
Any natural person or legal entity opting for the above procedure is obliged to declare (in person or by its legal representative) a unique e-mail address in the National Registry of Citizens’ Communication (provided in Article 17 of Law 4704/2020 and essentially replacing Article 48 paragraph 5 of Law 4623/2019). Meeting the above formalities ensures that this newly introduced procedural option applies only to the extent both the sender and the recipient of the document wish to follow it, thereby avoiding the adverse effects of potential procedural surprises.
The Bill on the Acceleration of Pending Proceedings Opened by Over-Indebted Individuals
The Greek Ministry of Justice has opened for discussion, between 01 September 2020 and 15 September 2020, a bill aiming, inter alia, to accelerate the hearing of applications for settlement of debts under Law 3869/2010 (ie, the Law on over-indebted individuals). The applications affected are the ones which had been scheduled for hearing after 15 June 2021. The proposed provisions were deemed of absolute necessity for the Greek state to align with the provisions of the European Convention of Human Rights (the ECHR) and particularly with Article 6 paragraph 1 thereof, on the reasonable length of judicial proceedings.
As per the bill’s explanatory memorandum, the objective of the proposed provisions is twofold.
As already mentioned above, the first and clearly pronounced reason for the introduction of the bill is the alignment of the Hellenic Republic with Article 6 paragraph 1 of the ECHR. It is worth mentioning that, as per the data made available by the Greek Ministry of Justice, more than 40,000 applications from over-indebted individuals are pending before the Greek civil courts, with the hearing thereof being set in many cases in the distant future (ie, as late as 2027). In view of the fact that many of the pending applications had already been filed before 2015, it is apparent that the duration of the trial does not align with the requirements of Article 6 paragraph 1 of the ECHR, in a way that harms the reputation of the Greek state.
The Ministry’s aim, however, was to take this opportunity to also combat the abuse of the above protective framework by strategic players, wishing to take advantage of the support mechanisms provided to conscientious and diligent borrowers in order to avoid meeting their contractual obligations.
One of the key points of the proposed bill is to relieve the civil courts of the burden of cases that have been settled or otherwise resolved between the time of the application’s filing and its hearing. The statistical data available indicate that approximately 25% of cases pending before the Greek civil courts are eventually not discussed, either because an annulment of the hearing or a withdrawal of the application. For this purpose, it was deemed appropriate to ask the parties actually interested in bringing their cases before the courts to submit an additional application, asking for the rescheduling of the hearing. The relevant application is to be submitted via an electronic platform in order to facilitate the process and to minimise costs, while the notices on the acceleration of the procedure and other procedural acts shall also be available via electronic means. Finally, the procedural rules shall align with those of ordinary civil procedure, thereby leading to a limitation on oral elements and the introduction of the (exceptional) procedure of witness proof.
Unification of the Procedural Framework of the Court of Audit (Law 4700/2020)
The Greek Court of Audit, to the extent that it operates as a court and not as an administrative organ, has special jurisdiction over cases related to pensions as well as cases related to the audit of public accounts and the liability of civil or military public servants.
By virtue of Law 4700/2020, published on 29 June 2020, the existing procedural framework for the cases brought before the Court of Audit has been unified, amended and supplemented. The preparation of these newly introduced provisions has been the outcome of an initiative of the Ministry of Justice going back to 2018.
Prior to the introduction of Law 4700/2020, the identification of the procedural framework applicable before the Court of Audit required recourse to various pieces of legislation. Despite the Court's best efforts, the disparity of the legislative sources – in conjunction with the time gap between them and the successive amendments they have undergone – complicated the procedural framework excessively. As a result, bringing a case before the Court of Audit was overly convoluted, thereby jeopardising the fundamental right of every person to access effective judicial protection.
In the same spirit as the Bill on the Acceleration of Pending Proceedings Opened by Over-Indebted Individuals, Law 4700/2020 aims at the acceleration of judicial procedures, in order to meet the standards of Article 6 paragraph 1 of the ECHR. Notably, the European Court of Human Rights has already convicted Greece over delays in trials before the Court of Audit (see Case 951/10, Kalatzis-Kanatas v Greece).
The current framework, as shaped by Law 4700/2020, aspires to strike a balance between accelerating the judicial procedure and ensuring the fundamental elements of a fair trial (ie, access to court and the publicity).
The Effect of the Presumption of Innocence in Civil Litigation
The Supreme Court of Greece on Civil and Criminal Law matters (Areios Pagos) issued in full plenary session, its much-anticipated decision under Law 4/2020 dealing with the question how a civil court should approach a final decision issued by a criminal court ruling on the same factual background, especially if the latter has ruled in favour of the accused defendant for a specific criminal offence. A number of questions were raised:
On the above questions, opposing decisions of the Supreme Court have been issued.
Hence, in its aforementioned decision issued in full plenary session, the Areios Pagos referred to the distinction in the Greek Constitution between civil and criminal jurisdiction.
Respectively, the Areios Pagos ruled that said constitutional provision precludes the existence of a single legal order, in the context of which the judgment of the criminal court, and in particular its irrevocable acquittal of the defendant, automatically and without any other condition, must be accepted by the civil court, which, in turn, must reach a result compatible with the acquittal, and, consequently, dismiss the claim for damages of the plaintiff.
On the above considerations, the Areios Pagos ruled that the autonomy of these two jurisdictions (criminal and civil) means that the civil court, when deciding whether a civil and at the same time criminal offence has been committed, is not bound by any previous relevant criminal court decision, acquittal or conviction.
In particular, the Areios Pagos noted that in the case of an acquittal, the presumption of innocence does not imply an evidentiary commitment on the part of the civil court that necessarily leads to an evidentiary finding in accordance with the acquittal and therefore to the exclusion of the civil tort liability of the acquitted. This approach does not cause doubts over the acquittal and the principle set out in Article 6 paragraph 2 of the ECHR and Article 14 paragraph 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is not violated.
However, in any case, the civil court must take into account the criminal judgment as a strong presumption and may deviate from it only with a fully justified decision.
Court Duties on Declaratory Actions before the Multi–Member Court of First Instance
Legal actions requesting monetary claims are categorised on the basis of the type of relief requested by the plaintiff mainly into two categories:
While actions for performance aim at an enforceable court decision ordering the defendant to perform as obligated, actions for a declaratory judgment lead to a non-enforceable court decision, in which the court recognises the respective obligation of the defendant. In the latter type of action, it is for the plaintiff to request from the competent court, as a next step, the issuance of a payment order for any amount recognised as due and payable by the declaratory judgment having res judicata effect.
One major practical difference between these two categories of legal action is that, in the case of the action for performance, the plaintiff is obliged to pay court duty of around to 1% of the claimed amount until the hearing date of the legal action.
The Greek legislature has changed its approach over the last ten years, as to whether this court duty should also be imposed on actions for declaratory judgment. It has been a common practice for a legal action to be initially filed as an action for performance and, at the stage of the hearing, for the plaintiff to request the claim to be considered by the court as an action for a declaratory judgment for a part or the whole of the claimed amount.
By virtue of Article 42 of Law 4640/2019, issued in November 2019, the Greek legislature extended the aforementioned court duty to actions for declaratory judgment filed before the Multi-member Courts of First Instance (ie, the competent court to hear cases regarding claims over EUR250,000).
This advance collection of the aforementioned duty by the state, at such an early stage of the litigation process and for an amount usually higher than the final award, has been criticised as contrary to the principles of the rule of law and the provision of full and effective judicial protection to citizens, pursuant to the provisions of Article 20 paragraph 1, Article 26 paragraph 3, Article 94 paragraph 4 and Article 95 paragraph 5 of the Greek Constitution as well as Article 6 paragraph 1 of the ECHR, since it sets a procedural barrier that effectively violates the principle of open access to justice.
Indeed, after almost one year from the application of the above law, decisions of the Court of First Instance ruling against its constitutionality have already been issued. It is much anticipated, whether such position will be upheld by the courts higher in the hierarchy.
Civil and commercial disputes, of a national or cross-border nature, existing or future, may be subject to mediation provided that the parties have the power to dispose of the subject matter of the dispute in accordance with the provisions of substantive law.
Law 4640/2019 provides that, prior to filing a lawsuit, the legal counsel representing their client before the court must inform the latter in writing of either the possibility of recourse to mediation for those cases for which mediation is optional, or alternatively, of the obligation to appeal to the mandatory initial session for those cases where mediation is obligatory.
Civil and commercial disputes subjected to the mandatory initial mediation session are:
However, disputes having as a party the Greek state or any public entity are not subject to the mandatory initial mediation session.