This post was contributed by Dr. Vincent Richard, who practices with Wurth Kinsch Olinger in Luxembourg.
The end of the summer is the right time to draw readers’ attention to the recent entry into force in all EU Member States except Denmark of the Evidence Regulation recast on 1 July 2022 (Regulation 2020/1783).
The Evidence Regulation facilitates the cross-border taking of evidence by allowing a court or authority to request a court located in another Member State to take evidence there. The Regulation also allows courts to take evidence directly from another Member State after having asked permission from the central authority of that Member State.
The main goal of the recast is to bring the Evidence Regulation into the digital era by imposing that all communications and exchanges of documents should be carried out through a decentralised IT system such as e-CODEX and by encouraging the taking of evidence through videoconferencing. Additionally, the recast facilitates the direct taking of evidence and it introduces interesting changes to the notion of “court” under the Regulation.
Electronic Transmission of Requests through e-CODEX
The main objective of the recast is to impose an electronic transmission of requests and documents among courts using the Evidence Regulation. To that end, Article 7 (former Article 6 of Regulation 1206/2001) was entirely modified to provide for a fully dematerialised procedure and to allow electronic signatures, governed by Regulation no 910/2014 on electronic identification.
Communication between courts relies on the e-CODEX system, which is a decentralised and interoperable system for cross-border communication, allowing secure communication between preapproved and identifiable users such as judges and clerks. The e-CODEX system has already been used to connect the commercial registers of the Member States and in several pilot projects. The solution has been tested by a limited number of States in the application of the European Payment Order, Small Claims and European Account Preservation Order Regulation. The Regulation on the taking of evidence and the Regulation on the service of documents are the first texts on judicial cooperation in civil matters to require Member States to deploy access points to the e-CODEX system, but the Commission wishes to generalize the method, both in civil and criminal matters. On this issue, the reader may consult a recent blog post by Marta Requejo on the entry into force of the e-CODEX Regulation.
Because of the technical difficulties that this transformation entails, the relevant article (Article 7) did not enter into force in July 2022 with the rest of the Regulation but it will enter into force in 2025, three years after the adoption of the implementing regulation defining technical specifications (Commission implementing regulation (EU) 2022/422 of 14 March 2022).
Taking of Evidence through Videoconferencing
Where the taking of evidence requires the hearing of a person who is not in the territory of the requesting court, the Regulation encourages Member States to use videoconferencing whenever possible (Articles 12 and 20). This technology can be used to hear a party, a witness, an expert or even a child in the context of the application of Regulation 2019/1111. The recast encourages the use of videoconferencing, whether the taking of evidence is carried out by the requested court or directly by the requesting court.
The Notion of “Court” under the Regulation
Article 2 of the recast provides two definitions. One on the “decentralised IT system” and one on the notion of “court”. The latter definition is worth mentioning because it aimed to close the debate as to whether notaries can use the Evidence Regulation. (On the broader issue of notaries in EU PIL, see the post by Martina Mantovani on this blog, here)
Under the recast, the notion of court encompasses not only courts per se but also “other authorities in Member States as communicated to the Commission under Article 31(3), that exercise judicial functions, that act pursuant to a delegation of power by a judicial authority or that act under the control of a judicial authority, and which are competent under national law to take evidence for the purposes of judicial proceedings in civil or commercial matters”.
Hence, Member States are free to delegate the taking of evidence to notaries or court clerks and other Member States must respect this choice as long as it was communicated to the Commission. Recital 5 specifies that this definition includes authorities that qualify as courts under other Union legal acts, such as Brussels I bis, Brussels II ter and the Succession Regulation.
Direct Taking of Evidence
Article 19 to 21 of the recast further encourages requesting courts to use direct taking of evidence after asking permission from the central authority where the evidence is located. If that central body does not answer within 30 days of acknowledgement of receipt of the request, article 19(5) provides that the requesting court may send a reminder. Interestingly, if the requesting court does not receive a reply within 15 days of the acknowledgement of receipt of the reminder, the request for the direct taking of evidence shall be considered accepted. The Regulation, therefore, provides that the silence of the central body is equivalent to implicit acceptance of the taking of evidence on its territory. Exceptionally, the central body may, however, still refuse the taking of evidence after the deadline until the moment of the actual direct taking of evidence.
The Evidence Regulation has never been used much but it remains a useful tool at the disposal of judges and counsels who need to gather evidence abroad in cross-border disputes. The introduction of the e-CODEX system and the use of videoconferencing should speed up the process of obtaining evidence abroad.
Moreover, the recast foreshadows the method that will be followed in judicial cooperation in the coming years and it will be interesting to observe the implementation of e-CODEX in all Member States.