Casablanca Court : Thousands of recovery cases handled at once without summoning debtors

At the Casablanca First Instance Court, thousands of recovery cases are tried at the first hearing, unbeknownst to consumers and their defense. In fact, court summons are sent to mistaken addresses. The practices that have been around since 2017 involve the same judges, lawyers, bailiffs, clerics and creditors. The Moroccan Federation of Consumer Rights has also been contacted.

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It is 11 a.m. on December 12, 2019 at the Casablanca Civil Court of First Instance. The sixth chamber in charge of commercial affairs has dealt with 1,077 files at once. A record performance for the Moroccan justice and perhaps even globally.

These are mainly claims for payment filed by banks, insurance companies, credit companies, telecommunications companies and other large firms. From the first hearing, the verdicts on 1,000 of these cases are deemed to be in accordance with the request of the lawyer. Almost 871 of these cases concern banking, credit institutions, more than a hundred are related to the Moroccan subsidiaries of French insurance companies, and nearly 130 are for other companies, among others.

Seven days later, in the same room, the same judge examined 459 files. They were all dealt with in one session and their verdicts were delivered on the same morning.

In other hearings and since 2017, the files examined have approached or exceeded 1,000 suddenly. As a result, 81,375 files brought before the court from January 2017 to February 2020 were affected by these practices. The same judges (between 4 and 6 depending on the year), same lawyers (6 in total) and the same complainant companies (10) return with more than a hundred files per hearing each.

«Unfair» practices?

Thus, ten judges in charge of commercial affairs at the Casablanca Court of First Instance work on the files, but only one of them has singlehandedly examined more than half of them. He is followed by three of his fellow judges, who deal with the remaining cases. In 2017 alone, the judge who worked on the most trials had handled thousands of files : on January 18, he  examined 500, on February 18 he dealt with 500, March 8, 317; 747 cases were examined on April 26, 2017 and several hundred others during the following months.

On February 28, 2018, he took care of 1,170 files at once; on March 7, 1,258 files were examined; and on the 14th of the same month, 1,207 cases were dealt with.

The other judges have an efficiency more or less identical to the aforementioned one: between 800 and 1,200 cases handled by hearing.

These abnormally high figures, the recurrence of the same plaintiff companies, the same lawyers and the same judges were reported to Yabiladi by victims who describe these practices as «false trials», pointing to several other anomalies.

Suits filed in Casablanca while debtors reside in other cities

The court of first instance can only deal with recovery cases with claims that are less than 20,000 dirhams in value according to the law. However, several cases consulted by Yabiladi greatly exceed this amount. This same court even orders urban or rural municipalities to pay while the actions fall under the administrative courts and the addresses refer to offices in Casablanca.

These practices surprised those notified of the convictions pronounced against them, even though they had never received summons to attend hearings. «These thousands of files whose court references follow each other have been judged in batches» and almost all of the accused could not hire a lawyer, «which indicates that summons were not made on a regular nor legal» basis, one of the concerned alleged victims told Yabiladi.

However, the hearings’ summons, consulted by Yabiladi, mostly feature wrong addresses. Some of them were even located in other cities and were supposed to have been dealt with locally. For example, some companies actually domiciled in Tiznit or Taza have been assigned with Casablanca addresses. The stamp of the same bailiff clerk is found in many of these «false summons».

Morover, the names of those summoned are often entered in French only, while the documents published in court must be transcribed in Arabic. This is also the case for the minutes of most hearings. Indeed, these documents do not seem to have been handwritten in court, but seized by computer, which may have been done in order to automate the processing of hundreds of files via direct mail (also known as junk mail or admail). 

Criminal liability offenses

All of these irregularities may represent a violation of several laws. One of them is the principle of fair trial, recognized in article 120 of the Constitution, stating that «everyone has the right to a fair trial and to a judgment rendered within a reasonable time. The rights of the defense are guaranteed before all courts». This is not the case when a matter is judged at the first hearing without the presence of the defense.

Furthermore, these practices violate article 111 of law n° 31.08 enacting consumer protection measures. In fact, the first paragraph of this text provides that «claims for payment must be brought before the court that covers the home or place of residence of the borrower».

Also, article 39 of the Code of Civil Procedure specifies the rules for convening a hearing, the writing of which is signed by the authority or the agent and not by the clerk. «Even though the judge should check that the request, the fold and the address appear in the statement, the latter does not check and pronounce the conviction», said the lawyer of one of the alleged victims.

These practices question the responsibility of the parties dealing with these trials and the plaintiff companies.

«The addresses contained in the envelopes constitute forgery in writing and their use is repressed by the provisions of the Penal Code», denounces the lawyer of one of the alleged victims while denouncing what he referred to as an act akin to «swindle». If the 81,375 convicted parties since January 1, 2017 file a complaint, this may lead to one of the biggest legal scandals in the Kingdom.

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