Austria has taken several measures for the fight against the Coronavirus and there were numerous regulations put into place, for example until the 13.04.2020 the entering of public places is prohibited (excluding necessary activities), closing of gastronomy and business premises and measures on entry into the country.
1. COVID-19 legislative package
A comprehensive package of measures (COVID-19-Maßnahmengesetz) was established on 15.03.2020, as well as the establishment of the COVID-19 crisis management fund (COVID-19-FondsG), which is endowed with four billion euros. As measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Minister of Health, the provincial governors or the district administrative authorities are empowered to impose bans on entry. Violations are punishable by fines of up to 3,600 euros for private individuals or 30,000 euros for owners of affected business premises who do not implement the ban on entry. In addition, the Austrian Code of Criminal Procedure was adopted, which allows for hearings of accused persons during a pandemic to be held via video conference.
2. COVID-19 legislative package
In view of the far-reaching effects of the corona pandemic, the Austrian Bar (ÖRAK) has strongly advocated a legal moratorium on deadlines. These efforts were successful. On 19.03.2020, a comprehensive second COVID-19 legislative package was introduced, amending in total 39 laws and adding 5 new laws. Most of the provisions thus entered into force on 22.03.2020 and will largely expire at the end of 31 December 2020. In court proceedings, all procedural periods which fall within the period after the entry into force of this law and procedural periods that have not yet expired shall be interrupted until the end of 30.04.2020 and shall begin to run anew from 01.05.2020. In addition, the period from the entry into force of this Federal law until the end of 30.04.2020 shall not be included in the period in which an action or application is to be brought before a court or a declaration is to be made – this concerns, for example, limitation periods. Special provisions are also made in criminal proceedings. The Federal Minister of Justice can order the jurisdiction of another judicial institution and is authorised to order an interruption of the time periods for the maximum duration of preliminary proceedings, of the two-month period for the retrial of an interrupted main hearing and of the time periods for the filing and execution of appeals. For the period of the general measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, hearings and oral hearings shall only be held under certain conditions (prevention of danger to life, freedom, etc.).
Regulations from the Federal Ministry of Justice
As from 20th of March, the Federal Ministry of Justice restricted party traffic to the absolutely necessary minimum with its regulation amending the rules of procedure for the courts in the first and second instance and with the decree on dealing with the current corona pandemic. The decree recommends that the courts and prosecutors’ offices postpone hearings that are not urgent. In addition, as already mentioned above the regulation extending the scope of application for the use of video conferences in criminal proceedings was announced on Monday. This regulation came into force 17.03.2020 and will expire on 13.04.2020.
COVID-19 Labour Law
With the new regulation on COVID-19 short-time work the Public Employment Service Austria (AMS) supports companies. These regulations on COVID-19 short-time work and the social partner agreement also apply to law firms.
Lawyers and Bars
For the lawyers, at the initiative of the Austrian Bar (ÖRAK), an exception for « services related to justice » was included in the regulation on interim measures to prevent the dissemination of COVID-19. Nevertheless, it is requested to reduce the activities in the law firm offices to a minimum and to switch to working from home as far as possible.
Due to the measures recently taken by the government to contain the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), to protect members, parties, business partners and employees, and to provide the best possible support for the efforts of society, there will be no party transactions in the Austrian Bar (ÖRAK) and the regional bars. However, they will of course remain in operation.