May 2023 – From 1 June 2023, the so-called reform of the “judicial map” of Slovakia enters into force, which according to its proponents should bring faster and better decision-making by the courts and ensure better working conditions for judges. The basic premise of the reform is the specialisation of judges and courts under five main agendas—family, civil, criminal, commercial, and administrative justice. The reform is intended to increase the efficiency of the administration of justice and will lead to several changes: the dissolution of several existing courts, the creation of new courts, and the transfer of agendas between individual courts.
The reform of the “judicial map” consists of two laws: (i) Act no. 150/2022 Coll. on the amendment of certain laws in connection with new seats and court districts, and (ii) Act no. 151/2022 Coll. on the establishment of administrative courts and on the amendment of certain laws, which were approved by the National Council of the Slovak Republic on 27 April 2022.
Municipal courts in Bratislava and Košice
The biggest change brought by the reform is the creation of new municipal courts in Bratislava and Košice. The current District Courts Bratislava I–V will be replaced by four Municipal Courts from 1 June 2023, while the agenda will be divided between the newly established courts as follows:
The Commercial Register for the Bratislava Region will be maintained by the Municipal Court Bratislava III.
A new municipal court will also be established in Košice, replacing the District Courts Košice I, II and Košice - surroundings.
According to the reform, the number of district courts in Slovakia will be reduced from 54 to 31, while some of the courts that will be dissolved (such as the District Court of Skalica, the District Court of Ružomberok and the District Court of Partizánske) will become workplaces of their successor district courts.
Commercial law disputes (typically, for example, a dispute between two entrepreneurs over the payment of an invoice) will no longer be decided by all district courts, as is currently the case. From 1 June 2023, this agenda will fall under the competence of eight selected district or municipal courts.
With regard to employment law disputes, eight selected district or municipal courts will continue to have competence over these disputes. However, this agenda will be transferred from the current district or municipal courts to completely different courts. In Bratislava, for example, this agenda will be transferred from the District Court Bratislava III to the Municipal Court Bratislava IV.
The number of regional courts does not change in terms of the reform, but there is a change in the competence of individual regional courts. This change is made to ensure the main goal of the reform, which is the specialisation of judges.
Civil and criminal second-instance cases will remain in all eight regional courts, but commercial disputes will be transferred to the regional courts in Bratislava, Banská Bystrica and Košice, and family law second-instance cases will be transferred to the regional courts in Trnava, Žilina and Prešov. In practice, this will mean that, for example, appeals in commercial disputes will be heard by only three regional courts instead of the current eight.
With regard to administrative courts, the reform brings about the establishment of three new first-instance administrative courts—the Administrative Court in Bratislava, the Administrative Court in Banská Bystrica and the Administrative Court in Košice. The new administrative courts will start operating on 1 June 2023.
With the establishment of the three new administrative courts mentioned above, the reform at the level of administrative courts is completed. At the top of the system of administrative courts is the Supreme Administrative Court, which was established earlier and has been operating since 1 August 2021.
Proceedings commenced and pending before the reform
In general, if there is a case pending before a court that is to be dissolved, it will be transferred to the successor court. If a case is pending at a court that will not dissolve after the reform but will no longer have competence, such "old" cases will be closed by the original court and will not be transferred to another court.
There are some exceptions to this general rule. For example, in the case of administrative courts, pending cases will be transferred from the original administrative court to the new competent administrative court from the date of entry into force of the reform, or in the case of municipal courts in Bratislava, some pending cases will be transferred from the original district court to the new competent municipal court, also from the date of entry into force of the reform.
Summary and conclusion
The purpose of the new “judicial map” is mainly to concentrate and specialise courts and judges. It will be interesting to see how the new “judicial map” is implemented in practice, and whether the reform will only be of a formal nature (change of the name of the courts and court stamps), or whether there will be a real streamlining and reduction in the length of court proceedings in Slovakia.