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Judicial officers’ offices during quarantine: physically closed, but open online

Judicial officers’ offices during quarantine: physically closed, but open online

After transitioning to working remotely as of March 16, judicial officers are continuing to provide most of their regular services to creditors and debtors during the quarantine period. They are aware of the fact that this temporary emergency and quarantine do not eliminate their professional duty to perform functions assigned by the state and help parties to civil proceedings ensure their interests.

While direct contact is limited, judicial officers and their employees will communicate with participants of proceedings by phone, e-mail, via the website www.antstoliai.lt or by regular mail. These measures are fully sufficient for providing consultations to individuals and transferring the necessary information or documents. Debtors and creditors can remotely submit their applications, complaints, certificates on the origin of funds received or other documents to the judicial officers who can then use the same channels to provide participants of proceedings with the necessary documents.

The current quarantine is also not an obstacle for the submission of new enforcement orders: written enforcement orders may be submitted to judicial officers by mail, and electronic enforcement orders – by e-mail or via the Internet by logging into the Judicial Officers' Information System at http://www.antstoliai.lt/.

Each day, judicial officers perform an average of 13.6 thousand procedural actions on the Judicial Officers' Information System. The system helps judicial officers promptly retrieve data from 25 official registers. It is integrated with the information systems of banks, tax administration information system and the information system of the State Social Insurance Fund Board, as well as the Cash Restrictions Information System which promptly withdraws funds from debtors' accounts and distributes them to creditors.

Innovative debt recovery solutions help ensure the continuity of judicial officers' operations even in extreme conditions.

Fulfilment of most claims previously submitted to judicial officers continues in accordance with the procedures set forth in the Code of Civil Procedure and Instruction on Execution of Judgements. This is particularly important to hundreds of thousands of creditors, including more than 62 thousand persons with minor children who are waiting for their child support payments, as well as many injured persons or crime victims who are waiting for compensation of damages suffered by these persons. For many of them, debt recovered by judicial officers is one of the sources of income to ensure that their basic needs are met.

However, pursuant to the order of the Minister of Justice, enforcement actions may be deferred in cases where, for objective reasons, it is not possible to ensure protection of the health of the judicial officer, judicial officer's assistant, parties to the enforcement proceedings and other persons involved, and prevent the spread of COVID-19 virus during the execution of enforcement actions. Such situations can occur during the execution of enforcement orders regarding forced eviction or resettlement, child surrender, established procedure for communicating with the child, etc.

During the quarantine period, judicial officers shall also refrain from announcing new auctions. Despite the fact that auctions and registration of property rights do not require any direct contact between people since they are executed online, such auctions are the absolute 'last resort' of forced recovery, and housing auctions can make the situation of debtors unbearable during this difficult time.

On 2020 03 16, the Government approved an action plan for restoring the economy and mitigating the effects caused by the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), one of the measures of which is to "suspend the recovery of tax arrears in accordance with the criteria of prudence". In light of this fact, the State Tax Inspectorate, which is one of the country's major debt collectors, suspended the filing of new enforcement orders regarding debt recovery in favour of the state (including recovery of administrative fines which makes up a very large part of the work of judicial officers).

A Government meeting held on 2020 03 25 approved the proposal of the Ministry of Justice to temporarily, during the quarantine period, suspend forced debt recovery from the salaries of natural persons and other equivalent debtor income, as specified in Article 737 of the Code of Civil Procedure of the Republic of Lithuania, in active cases relating to debt recovery to the State budget, excluding recovery of administrative and criminal fines.

How will this be implemented practically? The procedures have not yet been discussed and coordinated. The Chamber of Judicial Officers of Lithuania proposed to the Ministry of Justice an amendment of implementation procedures during the quarantine period regarding assurance of quarantine incentives during this period. Funds transferred by employers to the special deposit accounts of judicial officers will be directed in two different streams by taking into account the origin of obligations of the person in debt. The share of the funds intended to be used for covering support-related debts (alimony), compensating crime-related damage, and paying fines imposed under criminal procedure shall be distributed to the creditors concerned and transferred to their accounts. The other share of deducted funds intended for covering tax arrears as well as fines and penalties imposed on taxpayers shall be returned to employees in debt by judicial officers.

This mechanism will help provide employed persons with temporary benefits in an expeditious manner, since its implementation does not require systemic readjustments. When the quarantine ends, it will be possible to smoothly shift back to normal debt recovery procedures at any time and avoid the risk that deductions from the income of employed persons will be disrupted for an unreasonably long period of time.

In cooperation with the Ministry of Justice, measures are being sought to further help those who are particularly vulnerable during the current emergency situation.


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