A Fuengirola court is preparing for an extra-heavy workload in the near future: the Andalusian High Court (TSJA) has ordered it to recollate all the information lost when 394 files of legal proceedings were accidentally destroyed last year.
The matter only came to light recently when a lawyer went to the court to ask for information about a case he was handling. He was informed that the proceedings had been cancelled because 78 boxes of legal files which were stored offsite at the Junta de Andalucía's archive on the Malaga technology park (PTA) had been destroyed by mistake last October and nobody had realised.
A source at the Junta de Andalucía says the boxes were stacked up and somebody who worked at the judicial archive accidentally included them with others which had been authorised to be removed and destroyed.
The contract for the company which ran the archive ended in April, and after putting it to tender, a different company is now running the facility.
Permission has to be granted
If a judicial file is to be destroyed, permission has to be granted first by a committee formed by members of the Andalusian High Court and the regional government's Justice ministry. This is normally done to clear space in the court archives. The committee decides whether the files can be removed and destroyed, or whether they should be passed to other administrations.
One lawyer with clients affected by this error says that the boxes contained everything which is relative to each case, including original documents or court decisions which had already been taken. "For example, if a couple have applied for a legal separation and signed an agreement, that agreement will be kept in the file. If things go badly and one of them wants to use the agreement as evidence for a claim, it won't exist any more because it has been destroyed. A situation could arise where one of them has lost their copy, and the other one claims they don't have theirs either, because that would work in their favour," he explains.
Not an easy task
Reconstructing the files will not be an easy task. The process is laid down by law, which says that the parties involved must provide all the documents they have so they can be included in the file. If they are willing to comply, have the documents or these can be obtained again, there is no problem, but if not then the matter has to be taken to a higher court, which will decide how the files have to be reconstituted or will decree that this would prove impossible. Any of the parties involved could appeal against such a decision. The Junta de Andalucía also says that some of the documents in the files, but not all, will have been digitised so that information can be retrieved.
Unions have been complaining for some time that the judicial archives are overcrowded, and the Junta recently invited bids from companies to construct a 45,000-square-metre storage facility for the legal files. Unfortunately only one company was interested and was turned down because it failed to meet the requirements, so for the moment it cannot be built.