The Postman Always Rings Twice

The postman plays an important part in the functioning of the legal system in Poland. And if he doesn’t always ring twice he certainly visits twice. How so?

Legal proceedings in Poland are served by post. If you wish to commence legal action against somebody you prepare the statement of claim, send it to the court (by registered post or by delivering it) and the court is then responsible for serving it on the other party a process which, depending on the court, may take days, weeks or months. The court sends a copy of the statement of claim to the other party by registered post and once that party has received the statement of claim there is a period of 14 days in which to respond. The court will then send a copy of that response to the first party, again by registered post, and after this epistolary ping pong has reached some sort of conclusion the case will be set down for the first hearing (please see Tea and Sympathy for some thoughts on the timing of hearings) and will continue, via one or more subsequent hearings, to judgment.

If a letter is delivered by registered post the delivery is signed for and the post office sends confirmation of delivery to the sender. If receipt of the letter is not acknowledged, the postman will leave a notice that he tried to deliver the letter (avizo) and the recipient has fourteen days in wich to collect the letter from the local post office. And this is where the opportunity to use (or abuse) the system arises.

If the letter is not collected within 14 days of the initial attempt to deliver it, the letter will be deemed to have been served on the expiry of those 14 days even if the recipient did not in fact collect the letter. Because communications from the court relating to legal proceedings require an answer within 14 days, the practice has grown up of not accepting correspondence when first delivered but instead taking the notice of attempted delivery from the postman, sending him away with letter, and collecting the correspondence 14 days later from the post office. This works because, very helpfully, courts put the case number on the outside of the envelope so it is possible, with that information, to visit the court to see the content of the correspondence 14 days before it is collected from the post office or is officially deemed to have been delivered. This, in effect, doubles from 14 to 28 days the time available in which to send a reply. This reply will itself be deemed to have been sent within the official 14 day period provided it is sent by registered post with a confirmed date of posting on the 14th day after the date it was officially received.

Of course, if you are the party responding to correspondence, particularly during legal proceedings, an extra 14 days is always welcome but the net effect of this is to lengthen the already lengthy course of legal proceedings. Are lawyers taking advantage of the system for the benefit of their clients or are they playing a game which makes a bad situation slightly worse? I am not sure – what do you think?

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