Stages of the procedure in civil cases

In a civil case, a dispute between private individuals or corporations is decided impartially by a court. The matter may pertain, for example, to tort liability, inheritance disputes, the cancellation of a transaction or the rent for an apart-ment. The district court makes enforceable decisions also in matters pertaining to undisputed demands for payment or evictions.

You can read more about child disputes from page Custody and right of access.

Initiation of a case

A civil case becomes pending when a written application for a summons is delivered by the plaintiff to the registry of the district court. The application for a summons may also be filed electronically. In certain cases, electronic services are obligatory. You can read more about electronic services here.

The application for a summons must contain the name of the court, the names of the plaintiff and the defendant, the legal counsels and the witnesses, and their contact information.

In the application for a summons, the plaintiff explains what he or she demands of the defendant and on what grounds. A claim for the compensation of legal costs may also be made.

If the claim is based on a contract or some other document, the document must be appended to the application for a summons. The plaintiff must also name the evidence, i.e. written evidence and/or witnesses, in the matter. In the case of a simple undisputed debt case, i.e. a so-called summary dispute, it may be initiated by a narrower application for a summons. Read more about summary civil cases here .

A court fee will be charged from the plaintiff in a civil case.

If the party cannot bear the costs of court proceedings, these may, under certain circumstances, be covered from state funds (legal aid). More information on legal aid's website.

Preparation of a civil case

In the preparation of a case, the person in charge of the dossier peruses the application for a summons and, if necessary, requests additional information.

After having perused the application for a summons, he or she issues a summons, where the defendant is requested to respond to the demands in writing before a deadline. The summons contains information on the matters that are to be included in a written response. The district court serves the summons on the defendant by telephone, by post or by a process server.

If there is no response, the district court will decide the case without continuing the preparation. In this event, the decision is called a default judgment; it is issued at the registry of the court without the plaintiff or the defendant being summoned to a hearing. A default judgement is immediately enforceable and may be submitted to an enforcement officer by the creditor. The district court is not responsible for the enforcement of the judgment, but the creditor himself or herself must contact the defendant and the enforcement authorities.

A defendant against whom a default judgment has been issued has the right to appeal against the decision within 30 days of being served with it. The relevant procedure is called application for re-trial.

If the defendant submits a written response and opposes the action, the proceedings continue in written or oral preparation. The purpose of the preparation is to establish what kind of demands the parties have and what they are based on, which matters they disagree on, what evidence will be presented and what is the purpose of each piece of evidence, and whether there are any possibilities for a settlement in the case.

In the written preparation, a district court can request a party to submit a written statement on a specific question to the court. In some situations, even a disputed case can be decided immediately after the written preparation. The prerequisite is that the parties consent to this and it would be manifestly unnecessary to hold a main hearing, for example because no witnesses are to be heard in the case.

Oral preparation takes place in a preparatory hearing, where the parties are summoned to. The purpose of the preparatory hearing is to establish the matters that the parties disagree on. Any possibilities of a settlement are also explored. If a settlement is reached in the hearing, the district court will confirm the settlement and the case is closed. If there is no settlement, the oral preparation is concluded and the matter is referred to a main hearing.

The parties should prepare carefully for the preparatory hearing. The parties should bring along all written evidence they intend to invoke. They should also know who they want to call as witnesses and the contact details of these witnesses. The questions asked at the hearing are often very detailed and the parties need to be prepared to be able to answer them. If the hearing has to be adjourned because of a neglect on the part of a party, he or she may be obliged to pay the costs incurred.

An oral preparation can also be arranged by way of a conference call, for example if the parties reside far away from the court.

In some situations, the oral preparation may be skipped and the written preparation is immediately followed by a main hearing.

Main hearing in a civil case

In a simple case, the main hearing can be held immediately after the preparatory hearing. However, in complex cases including witnesses, the main hearing is held on a date agreed upon separately.

First, the chair summarises the results of the preparation of the case and the demands of the parties. Thereafter, the plaintiff and the defendant present more detailed grounds for their demands. Then, the written evidence is gone through and any witnesses heard. The main hearing ends with the parties’ closing statements, wherein they express an opinion as to how the case should be decided.

The parties should prepare carefully for the main hearing. It is important that all relevant points are fresh in mind. New claims or evidence not presented during the preparation can no longer be presented in the main hearing, unless there has been a valid reason for the failure to present them earlier. The main hearing can be adjourned only in exceptional cases.

In most cases, the judge in charge of the preparation chairs the main hearing and decides the matter on his or her own. Where necessary, a panel of three judges can be present at the main hearing.

Decision in a civil case

A decision in a civil case is issued either immediately after the hearing or later at the registry of the court, in which event the parties can read the decision there. The decision is delivered to the parties upon request, for example by email. The decision is called a judgment or a decision.

A person who is dissatisfied with the decision may appeal against it to a court of appeal in accordance with the appeal instructions appended to the decision.

If the decision is not appealed against within the specified time limit, it becomes final.

The district court is not responsible for the enforcement of the judgment, but the party concerned must contact the opposing party or the enforcement authorities himself or herself.

Request for urgent consideration

To speed up the proceedings, a party may request the district court to order urgent consideration of the matter. A matter may be ordered to be considered urgently only in exceptional cases, when there are very important reasons to do so. When considering whether a request for urgent consideration is to be accepted, the court shall take account of the duration of the judicial proceedings so far, the nature of the matter and its significance to the party. A party may request urgent consideration by submitting to the court a written request, where he or she presents the circumstances on which the request for urgent consideration is based. The decision is made by a judge of the district court. If a request for urgent consideration is accepted, the district court must consider the matter without undue delay before other matters.

Published 21.1.2021