At the end of 2019, Polish civil procedure underwent quite a few changes with which the legislator intended to improve certain aspects of proceedings before common courts. The legislation passed was supposed to reduce both the costs of the proceedings and average duration of cases. However, due to the worldwide pandemic, leading to numerous restrictions, the new provisions remained largely untested in practice until late 2020. Today, it is becoming more and more apparent that the legislator was successful in providing the courts and parties to the proceedings with certain useful tools which, when applied correctly, enable legal disputes to be handled effectively both in terms of time and costs. One of these tools which undoubtedly stands out is the institution of a pretrial (preparatory) hearing (see articles 2054-20512 of the Civil Procedure Code).
A pretrial hearing is not exactly an innovative idea by itself. In certain jurisdictions, preparatory hearings have been known for decades. Even so, introduction of this tool represents a milestone in the context of Polish law. A pretrial hearing is designed to give a court (judge) greater influence over how proceedings progress by allowing a much earlier analysis of the parties’ claims, pleas, allegations and evidence, both those already gathered as well as those only requested (e.g. motions for an expert witness). Before the main trial even starts, the court (judge) can inquire which facts form common ground between the plaintiff and the defendant, and which are stipulated only by one of them. The hearing can also shed light on the parties’ interpretation of both the facts and applicable legal provisions. Thanks to such insight, the court (judge) is better equipped to rule on the parties’ motions and assess what evidence is of actual meaning and value to the dispute. This makes it easier to predict the duration of the dispute and plan in advance when each court session should take place.
While a pretrial hearing may seem to serve only as a means whereby the court (judge) can become better versed in the intricacies of the case, it is important to note how huge an impact on the outcome of this hearing the parties and their attorneys have. Careful preparation and deep knowledge of both the opponent’s viewpoint and applicable substantive law are crucial when attending a preparatory hearing. If the parties fail to justify their position or rebut their opponent’s counter-arguments, the court (judge) may decide to dismiss relevant motions or adopt an unfavourable initial stance. All of this can have far-reaching consequences for the main trial.