The new Act on Actions for the Protection of the Collective Interests of Consumers and on Amendments and Additions to Certain Acts (the "Act") was adopted by the Slovak Parliament on 21 June 2023 and will enter into force on 25 July 2023, with the exception of some special and temporary provisions, which enter into force on the date of the Act's publication in the Collection of Legislative Acts. The Act, which transposes the Representative Actions Directive (EU) 2020/1828, introduces a new legal proceeding—class actions—into Slovak legislation.
The most significant elements of the new Act include:
- The introduction of two types of actions / proceedings
available under the Act:
- a proceeding for the issue of a redress measure—an action for the protection of the collective interests of consumers, in which the court may impose one or more remedies on the trader, such as damage compensation, repair, replacement, price reduction, contract termination or reimbursement of the price paid); and
- an abstract review proceeding in consumer matters—an action for the protection of the collective interests of consumers in which the court examines the unfairness of a contractual term, unfair commercial practice, and other breaches of the provisions of consumer protection legislation.
- The introduction of the criteria to designate a local qualified entity, i.e., an authorised entity that represents the interests of consumers and which is entered in the list of qualified entities. Such legal persons will be entitled to bring domestic or/and cross-border actions to protect consumers' collective interests. The list of qualified entities will be maintained by the Ministry of Economy of the Slovak Republic, and more detailed criteria for inclusion in this list are defined in the Act.
- The introduction of an opt-in mechanism—by means of an application form submitted to any notary, until the end of the examination of evidencing at the court of first instance.
- The introduction of a mandatory consultation before filing an action for an abstract review proceeding with the trader concerned in order to get the trader to desist from infringing the legislation.
- Specific rules on evidence:
- the introduction of the legal fiction that a decision of a court/administrative authority of any Member State on the existence of an infringement of the collective interests of consumers may be used as evidence substantiating the claim, unless proven otherwise;
- the court may consider additional evidence, even if not presented by a party, if it is crucial for the decision. In accordance with the rules set out, the court is obliged to obtain or preserve such evidence even without a formal request, and the principle of concentration does not apply in this context. In addition, the court may order the defendant or a third party to disclose evidence in their possession that is material to the determination of the case, and in the event that the prompted party fails to do so, the court shall impose an injunctive measure.
- The introduction of the trader's right to object to the court's determination of whether the qualified entity meets the conditions under the law. Such review is performed only upon a reasoned objection of the defendant (trader) presented at the latest at the defendant's first procedural action.
The courts defined in the Act that shall be competent for the proceedings in disputes in consumer matters are defined based on the districts of the Regional court. For example, the Municipal Court Bratislava IV will have jurisdiction in the specified cases for the districts of the Regional Court in Bratislava, the Regional Court in Trnava and the Regional Court in Nitra.
Collective consumer actions have been debated in the European area for a long time. The Act makes this a reality in Slovakia, and the relevant market players may consider whether to expect a rising tide of pressure from consumers, despite the administrative hurdles to file actions. Such demands may not only increase but may also have more chance of success once the Act takes effect.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.