The rules on the recognition, admission and enforcement of judgments, arbitral awards and acts within EU Member States are regulated by the Regulation on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters (EU) 1215/2012 of 12.12.2012, currently in force. Bulgarian national legislation applies the same rules implemented in Art. 621 – 623 of Bulgarian Civil Procedure Code.
In general, we can distinguish two types of recognition and enforcement of a court decision in Bulgaria, depending on the way in which the recognition is made, namely:
- Direct recognition – the general rule is that judgments given by one EU Member State are recognized in all other Member States without requiring any special procedure. The court judgment shall be submitted as a certified copy accompanied by a translation, without requiring legalization or other formalities (Articles 55 and 56 of the Regulation). In accordance with this general rule, Art. 621 of Bulgarian Civil Procedure Code stipulates that court decisions rendered in another EU member state shall be respected by Bulgarian body before which they are presented. It is necessary for the judgment to be presented in the form of a certified copy, verified by the court that ruled on it, and if an act of the European Union requires it – by an accompanying certificate. For matrimonial matters, recognition shall be effected by the competent registration authorities.
- Recognition by court order – any interested party may submit an application requesting recognition of a foreign decision in Bulgaria. The application must be accompanied by the foreign judgment itself duly verified and legalized so as its authenticity to be established. The application shall be filed in accordance to the criteria of local jurisdiction – either at the respective district court at the permanent address or registered office of the defendant, or if there is no counterparty – at the respective court at the permanent address or registered office of the interested party. If both parties do not have a permanent address in Bulgaria – the application shall be filed with the Sofia City Court. The application is processed in accordance with the procedure for the enforcement of judgments or acts given in other EU Member States. The court comes out with an official act of recognition and it has the same legal effect as of a judgment rendered in a lawsuit. In the event that there is a legal dispute and the settlement of this dispute depends exclusively on the recognition of the foreign judgment, the court that hears the pending case is competent to rule on the recognition of the judgment.
The Regulation provides for several possible grounds for a refusal of recognition of a decision or act of an EU Member State, namely:
- if such recognition is manifestly contrary to public order in the Member State addressed;
- if the judgment was rendered in absentia, when the defendant has not been served with a document which instituted the proceedings or with another equivalent document in sufficient time or in an appropriate manner that will enable him to organize his defence, unless the defendant has used possible legal mechanisms to challenge the judgment;
- if the judgment contradicts another judgment given between the same parties in the member state addressed;
- if the judgment contradicts an earlier judgment given in another Member State or in a third country involving the same cause of action and between the same parties,
- non-compliance with certain rules for distribution of competence, etc.;
Enforcement in Bulgaria of court decisions rendered in other EU member states shall follow a special procedure for admission of enforcement regulated in Art. 623 of the Civil Procedure Code. The application for admission of enforcement shall be filed with the respective district court at the permanent address of the debtor, his seat or by the place of execution. Proceedings shall be instituted at the request of the interested party, which must indicate address for service in Bulgaria or a legal representative. In the first instance court, the party against whom enforcement is sought is not entitled to make statements on the application and therefore no copy of the application is served on that party. A copy of the judgment shall be attached to the application, together with a translation of the judgment without the need for further legalization. Another document to be enclosed is a certificate issued by the court or competent authority of the Member State where the judgment was given. The court considers the application at a closed session and judges on admission of enforcement only on the basis of the copy of the court decision, the certificate and their translation into Bulgarian.
In Bulgaria, the judgment by which the application is recognized is served on the debtor and the court sets a term for appeal. This judgment on admission has the effect of a decision, pronounced within a claim procedure. Therefore, the general rules of the appellate and cassation proceedings shall apply to the appeal of the judgment.
On filing the application for admission of enforcement the claimant may request the issuing of an injunction or other interim measures. So, in case such precaution measures have been requested, the judgment for admission shall include ruling on these measures as well.
Direct enforcement of judgments rendered in an EU Member State – this option has been introduced to facilitate the enforcement of judgments within the European Union. Judgments issued in one EU Member State can be directly enforced in Bulgaria, without the necessity of issuance of a writ of execution in Bulgaria. The judgment itself is enforceable. In order for this to actually happen, a copy of the decision and a certificate from the court that issued it shall be submitted to the bailiff. From that moment the enforcement procedure conducted by the bailiff is similar to the national one. The difference consists in the documents that are sent by the bailiff to the debtor – the certificate mentioned in the previous sentence, accompanied by a letter before action and a copy of the court decision. Within one month from receipt of these papers, the debtor may file with the court an application for refusal of enforcement of a judgment. As there is no requirement the court decision to be translated into Bulgarian, the Civil Procedure Code provides for the possibility of suspending the one-month period until this decision is presented to the debtor, accompanied by a translation into Bulgarian. Therefore, it is best such translation to be preparer from the beginning by the bailiff or the creditor.
Execution under Art. 624a of the Civil Procedure Code – this is the so-called simplified procedure for issuing a writ of execution on the basis of a European enforcement order for an undisputed claim. The application is filed with the district court at the debtor’s permanent address, seat or place of execution. For the issuance of a writ of execution on the basis of a decision in a European Small Claims Procedure, Regulation (EC) 861/2007 is applicable. This Regulation applies in cases where the value of the claim does not exceed 2000 euros.
The above described simplified procedure applies in the following cases:
- enforceable court judgments of a Member State;
- a public document, signed by a public authority or another body authorized for this purpose by the Member State of origin;
- a maintenance obligation agreement concluded with or certified by an administrative body;
- It should be also noted that is applicable only in case of uncontested claims. According to the applicable European legislation, a claim is considered uncontested if:
- the debtor has explicitly agreed to it by admission or by means of a settlement which has been approved by a court authority or concluded before a court in the course of proceedings, or
- the debtor has never objected the claim, within the given terms and in compliance with the relevant procedural requirements under the law of the Member State of origin, or
- the debtor has not appeared or been represented at a court hearing regarding that claim after having initially objected to the claim in the course of the court proceedings, provided that such conduct amounts to a tacit admission of the claim or of the facts alleged by the creditor under the law of the Member State of origin, or
- the debtor has explicitly agreed to it in an authentic instrument.