by Bill Papastergiadis*
The Greek judicial system is founded upon traditional and longstanding civil law principles. Private law disputes fall under the jurisdiction of the civil courts and are determined exclusively in this manner. Whilst such established processes are of value, they are often criticised for being time-consuming, costly and lacking specialist knowledge. Whilst recent reforms attempt to encourage mediation as a method for resolving disputes, it remains to be seen, in practice, how effective such measures will be. It is contended that the Greek civil justice system can be significantly strengthened by adopting various successful aspects of Australia’s civil justice system. In particular, focus will be placed upon the establishment of tribunals, specialist court processes and alternative dispute resolution to tackle issues associated with efficiency, consistency, cost and access to justice.
The Greek judicial system is organised into civil, criminal and administrative sectors. For civil proceedings, courts are hierarchically structured according to monetary value or nature of claim, and proceedings are regulated by the Code of Civil Procedure. To this end, parties are generally obliged to obtain legal representation and proceed straight to court when commencing proceedings. The significant costs and delays associated with such a rigid process often present barriers for prospective litigants. Whilst the Code of Civil Procedure sets deadlines for filing and other similar procedures, such timelines are rarely followed in practice with often few repercussions when they are not followed.
Greek the civil jurisdiction is, to an extent, divided according to the nature of the claims.However, there is no guarantee that the presiding judge will have an expertise in relevant area of law. To this end, the civil procedure system in Greece lacks specialist courts or tribunals tailored to address specific types of disputes. As a result, litigants are forced to have their claims dealt with by the general courts which can lead to inconsistent outcomes and delays. The last major reform attempted to address such delays through the abolition of witness examination at hearings. Whilst such a reform seemed effective in theory, litigants nevertheless continue to experience substantial delays. More recent reforms are attempting to address such issues by implementing mandatory meditation procedures for certain types of disputes. It remains to be seen in practice how successful such measures will be.
Possibility for reform – Australian approach?
Such difficulties inherent within the Greek civil procedure system can be addressed by looking toward Australia’s approach. In particular, the introduction of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (‘VCAT’) provided litigants with an opportunity to resolve disputes in a timely, cost effective and efficient manner. In 2017-18, VCAT finalised 83,424 cases with 86 per cent customer satisfaction. By providing a specialised service, such a tribunal uniquely targets specific disputes. For example, VCAT has multiple lists (such as building and property and civil claims and human rights), where allocated members have specialist expertise in the matters before them. Additionally, the introduction of tribunals has provided for the expeditious resolution of smaller claims. For example, civil claims in VCAT are ordinarily resolved within 11 weeks. In contrast, civil appeals in the Supreme Court of Victoria are ordinarily resolved in 7.6 months. By removing many smaller matters from the courts, the judicial system is able to function more efficiently – which is evidenced by the decreasing delay backlog in the Supreme Court of Victoria. Moreover, tribunals have increased access to justice by establishing a cost-effective approach to resolving disputes. For example, VCAT is a no costs jurisdiction, which helps ensures expenses are minimal. Further, many of the lists do not require pleadings, meaning over 80 per cent of litigants attending are self-represented – resulting in significant cost-savings for litigants. It is recommended that the Greek judicial system considers adopting similar tribunals to target underlying issues associated with delays, costs and lack of specialisation, particularly with smaller or specialised areas of dispute.
Moreover, the Supreme Court of Victoria has similarly targeted issues with delay and specialisation by implementing general commercial, and specialist judge-managed lists. For example, the Technology, Engineering and Construction List is managed by a specialist judge that is responsible for ensuring cases proceed as efficiently as possible. Innovations such as resource and discovery conferences and case management information sheets to trial have also been introduced to such a list, leading to efficiency, cost savings and just outcomes. Additionally, urgent matters can be expedited to reduce delays. Efficiency is especially significant for large construction disputes, where delay can increase the quantum of damages rapidly.
Whilst such specialist court lists and tribunals exist in Australia, these mechanisms are often a last resort, and civil disputes are largely resolved through alternative dispute resolution (‘ADR’). Parties to litigation are under an overarching obligation to utilise reasonable endeavours to resolve disputes through methods such as ADR. Such processes often provide for a more cost-effective and collaborative solutions. Furthermore, such an approach often assists in maintaining positive relations between parties and increases party control. ADR processes are particularly effective in Victoria, where VCAT estimates that approximately 95% of all substantial civil cases will settle before judgement. In particular, parties are often required to participate in compulsory conferences to promote the resolution of a dispute before litigation. Similarly, the Magistrates Court of Victoria may refer disputes to an Early Neutral Evaluation in addition to or instead of mediation. In such a process, a magistrate will provide a non-binding evaluation on the likely outcome at a hearing. Alternatively, disputes may be referred to a pre-hearing conference, where the registrar will assist the patties in attempting to resolve the dispute before going to court. Whilst the Greek Code of Civil Procedure provides that parties can request conciliatory intervention (and recent reforms provide for mandatory mediation), ADR is nevertheless still largely absent and underdeveloped from the civil procedure arena in Greece.
Whilst the Greek judicial system is largely effective in its operation, litigants seeking redress often face considerable hurdles. The Greek civil procedure system can benefit by exploring possible further reforms by considering what other Countries, like Australia, have adopted to tackle similar issues. The establishment of specialised tribunals and court lists may assist in tackling issues associated with efficiency, cost and access to justice. Further, the Greek judicial system can be further improved by placing an increased focus upon ADR. Such reforms provide an alternative from rigid court systems and endeavour to provide a specialised approach to resolving disputes.
*Bill Papastergiadis is Managing Partner of Moray & Agnew's Sydney office and president of the Greek Community of Melbourne & Victoria
 Christos Paraskevopoulos, Dispute Resolution in Greece (Lexology, 2019).
 See, e.g., Law 3898/2010.
 Vassilios Ikonomidis and Georgia Patili, Litigation & Dispute Resolution 2019 (Global Legal Group, 2019).
 Maria Maravelaki, ‘Procedure before Civil Courts’, Greek Law Digest (2019).
 Ikonomidis and Patili (n 3).
 Law 4335/2015.
 Paraskevopoulos (n 1).
 Law 4512/2018.
 Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, Annual Report 2017-18, 7.
 Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, Annual Report 2016-17, 6.
 Supreme Court of Victoria, Annual Report 2016-17, 20.
 Ibid 7.
 Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal Submission, Access to Justice Review 2016.
 Diana Sera, ‘What’s New at the TEC List of the Supreme Court of Victoria’ 24(3) Australian Construction Law Bulletin 41.
 Civil Procedure Act 2010 (Vic) s 22.
 Legal Services Commission of South Australia, Advantages of Alternative Dispute Resolution (2019).
 Alternative Dispute Resolution in Victoria: Supply-Side Research Project, Research Report (2007) 47.
 Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 1998 (Vic) s 83.
 Magistrates Court of Victoria, Early Neutral Evaluation, <https://www.mcv.vic.gov.au/civil-matters/resolving-dispute/early-neutral-evaluation>.
 Magistrates Court of Victoria, Pre-hearing conferences, <https://www.mcv.vic.gov.au/civil-matters/resolving-dispute/pre-hearing-conferences>.
 Ikonomidis and Patili (n 3).
 Law 4512/2018.