CODE OF CANON LAW
BOOK VII. PROCESSES
PART II. THE CONTENTIOUS TRIAL
SECTION I. THE ORDINARY CONTENTIOUS TRIAL
THE INTRODUCTION OF THE CASE (Cann. 1501 - 1512)
The Introductory Libellus of Litigation
Can. 1501 A judge cannot adjudicate a case unless the party concerned or the
promoter of justice has presented a petition according to the norm of the
Can. 1502 A person who wishes to bring another to trial must present to a
competent judge a libellus which sets forth the object of the controversy and
requests the services of the judge.
Can. 1503 §1. The judge can accept an oral petition whenever the petitioner
is impeded from presenting a libellus or the case is easily investigated and of
§2. In either case, however, the judge is to order the notary to put the act
into writing; the written record must be read to and approved by the petitioner
and has all the legal effects of a libellus written by the petitioner.
Can. 1504 The libellus, which introduces litigation, must:
1/ express the judge before whom the case is introduced, what is being sought
and by whom it is being sought;
2/ indicate the right upon which the petitioner bases the case and, at least
generally, the facts and proofs which will prove the allegations;
3/ be signed by the petitioner or the petitioner’s procurator, indicating the
day, month, and year, and the address where the petitioner or procurator lives
or where they say they reside for the purpose of receiving the acts;
4/ indicate the domicile or quasi-domicile of the respondent.
Can. 1505 §1. When a single judge or the president of a collegiate tribunal
has seen that the matter is within his competence and the petitioner does not
lack legitimate personal standing in the trial, he must accept or reject the
libellus as soon as possible by decree.
§2. A libellus can be rejected only:
1/ if the judge or tribunal is incompetent;
2/ if without doubt it is evident that the petitioner lacks legitimate
personal standing in the trial;
3/ if the prescripts of can. 1504, nn. 1-3 have not been observed;
4/ if it is certainly clear from the libellus itself that the petition lacks
any basis and that there is no possibility that any such basis will appear
through a process.
§3. If the libellus has been rejected because of defects which can be
corrected, the petitioner can resubmit a new, correctly prepared libellus to the
§4. A party is always free within ten available days to make recourse with
substantiating reasons against the rejection of a libellus either to the
appellate tribunal or to the college if the libellus was rejected by the
presiding judge; the question of the rejection is to be decided as promptly as
Can. 1506 If within a month from the presentation of the libellus the judge
has not issued a decree which accepts or rejects the libellus according to the
norm of can. 1505, the interested party can insist that the judge fulfill his
function. If the judge takes no action within ten days from the request, then
the libellus is to be considered as accepted.
THE CITATION AND NOTIFICATION OF JUDICIAL ACTS
Can. 1507 §1. In the decree which accepts the libellus of the petitioner,
the judge or the presiding judge must call the other parties to trial, that is,
cite them to the joinder of the issue, establishing whether they must respond in
writing or present themselves before the judge to come to agreement about the
doubts. If from the written responses the judge perceives it necessary to
convene the parties, the judge can establish that by a new decree.
§2. If the libellus is considered as accepted according to the norm of can.
1506, the decree of citation to the trial must be issued within twenty days from
the request mentioned in that canon.
§3. If the litigating parties de facto present themselves before the judge to
pursue the case, however, there is no need for a citation, but the notary is to
note in the acts that the parties were present for the trial.
Can. 1508 §1. The decree of citation to the trial must be communicated
immediately to the respondent and at the same time to others who must appear.
§2. The libellus which introduces litigation is to be attached to the
citation unless for grave causes the judge determines that the libellus must not
be made known to the party before that party makes a deposition in the trial.
§3. If litigation is introduced against someone who does not have the free
exercise of his or her rights or the free administration of the things in
dispute, the citation must be communicated, as the case may be, to the guardian,
curator, or special procurator, that is, the one who is bound to undertake the
trial in the name of that person according to the norm of law.
Can. 1509 §1. The notification of citations, decrees, sentences, and other
judicial acts must be made through the public postal services or by some other
very secure method according to the norms established in particular law.
§2. The fact of notification and its method must be evident in the acts.
Can. 1510 A respondent who refuses to accept the document of citation or who
prevents its delivery is considered to be legitimately cited.
Can. 1511 If the citation was not communicated legitimately, the acts of the
process are null, without prejudice to the prescript of can. 1507, §3.
Can. 1512 When the citation has been communicated legitimately or the
parties have appeared before the judge to pursue the case:
1/ the matter ceases to be res integra;
2/ the case becomes proper to the otherwise competent judge or tribunal
before which the action was initiated;
3/ the jurisdiction of a delegated judge is fixed in such a way that it does
not cease when the authority of the one delegating expires;
4/ prescription is interrupted unless other provision is made;
5/ the litigation begins to be pending; therefore, the principle while
litigation is pending, nothing is to be altered immediately takes effect.
THE JOINDER OF THE ISSUE (Cann. 1513 - 1516)
Can. 1513 §1. The joinder of the issue (contestatio litis) occurs
when the terms of the controversy, derived from the petitions and responses of
the parties, are defined through a decree of the judge.
§2. The petitions and responses of the parties, besides those in the libellus
which introduces the litigation, can be expressed either in a response to the
citation or in the oral declarations made before the judge; in more difficult
cases, however, the judge must convene the parties to resolve the doubt or
doubts which must be answered in the sentence.
§3. The decree of the judge must be communicated to the parties; unless they
have already agreed to the terms, the parties can make recourse to the judge
within ten days in order to change them; a decree of the judge, however, must
resolve the question as promptly as possible (expeditissime).
Can. 1514 Once established, the terms of the controversy cannot be changed
validly except by a new decree, for a grave cause, at the request of a party,
and after the other parties have been heard and their arguments considered.
Can. 1515 After the issue has been joined, the possessor of the property of
another ceases to be in good faith; therefore, if the possessor is sentenced to
restore the property, the person must also return the profits made from the day
of the joinder and repair any damages.
Can. 1516 After the issue has been joined, the judge is to prescribe a
suitable time for the parties to present and complete the proofs.
THE TRIAL OF THE LITIGATION (Cann. 1517 - 1525)
Can. 1517 A trial begins with the citation; it ends not only by the
pronouncement of a definitive sentence but also by other methods defined by law.
Can. 1518 If the litigating party dies, changes status, or ceases from the
office in virtue of which action is taken:
1/ if the case has not yet been concluded, the trial is suspended until the
heir of the deceased, the successor, or an interested party resumes the
2/ if the case has been concluded, the judge must proceed to the additional
acts, after having cited the procurator, if there is one, or otherwise the heir
of the deceased or the successor.
Can. 1519 §1. If the guardian, curator, or procurator who is necessary
according to the norm of can. 1481, §§1 and 3 ceases from that function, the
trial is suspended in the meantime.
§2. The judge, however, is to appoint another guardian or curator as soon as
possible; the judge can appoint a procurator for the litigation if the party has
neglected to do so within the brief time period established by the judge.
Can. 1520 If the parties, without any impediment, propose no procedural act
for six months, the trial is abated.
Particular law can establish other terms of abatement.
Can. 1521 Abatement takes effect by the law itself against all persons,
including minors or those equivalent to minors, and must be declared ex officio,
without prejudice to the right of seeking indemnity against guardians, curators,
administrators, or procurators, who have not proved that they were not
Can. 1522 Abatement extinguishes the acts of the process but not the acts of
the case; indeed these acts can also have force in another trial provided that
the case involves the same persons and the same issue; regarding those not party
to the case, however, the acts have no force other than that of documents.
Can. 1523 Each litigant is to bear the expenses of the abated trial which
that litigant has incurred.
Can. 1524 §1. The petitioner can renounce the trial at any stage or grade of
the trial; likewise both the petitioner and the respondent can renounce either
all or only some of the acts of the process.
§2. To renounce a trial, guardians and administrators of juridic persons need
the counsel or consent of those whose involvement is required to place acts
which exceed the limits of ordinary administration.
§3. To be valid, a renunciation must be written and signed by the party or by
a procurator of the party who has a special mandate to do so; it must be
communicated to the other party, accepted or at least not challenged by that
party, and accepted by the judge.
Can. 1525 A renunciation accepted by the judge has the same effects for the
acts renounced as the abatement of the trial; it also obliges the renouncing
party to pay the expenses for the acts renounced.
PROOFS (Cann. 1526 - 1586)
Can. 1526 §1. The burden of proof rests upon the person who makes the
§2. The following do not need proof:
1/ matters presumed by the law itself;
2/ facts alleged by one of the contending parties and admitted by the other
unless the law or the judge nevertheless requires proof.
Can. 1527 §1. Proofs of any kind which seem useful for adjudicating the case
and are licit can be brought forward.
§2. If a party insists that a proof rejected by a judge be accepted, the
judge is to decide the matter as promptly as possible (expeditissime).
Can. 1528 If a party or a witness refuses to appear before the judge to
testify, it is permissible to hear them through a lay person designated by the
judge or to require of them a declaration either before a notary public or in
any other legitimate manner.
Can. 1529 Except for a grave cause, the judge is not to proceed to collect
the proofs before the joinder of the issue.
THE DECLARATIONS OF THE PARTIES
Can. 1530 The judge can always question the parties to draw out the truth
more effectively and indeed must do so at the request of a party or to prove a
fact which the public interest requires to be placed beyond doubt.
Can. 1531 §1. A party legitimately questioned must respond and must tell the
§2. If a party refuses to respond, it is for the judge to decide what can be
inferred from that refusal concerning the proof of the facts.
Can. 1532 In cases where the public good is at stake, the judge is to
administer an oath to the parties to tell the truth or at least to confirm the
truth of what they have said unless a grave cause suggests otherwise; the same
can be done in other cases according to the judge’s own prudence.
Can. 1533 The parties, the promoter of justice, and the defender of the bond
can present the judge with items about which the party is to be questioned.
Can. 1534 The provisions of cann. 1548, §2, n. 1, 1552, and 1558-1565
concerning witnesses are to be observed to the extent possible when questioning
Can. 1535 A judicial confession is the written or oral assertion of some
fact against oneself before a competent judge by any party concerning the matter
of the trial, whether made spontaneously or while being questioned by the judge.
Can. 1536 §1. The judicial confession of one party relieves the other
parties from the burden of proof if it concerns some private matter and the
public good is not at stake.
§2. In cases which regard the public good, however, a judicial confession and
declarations of the parties which are not confessions can have a probative force
which the judge must evaluate together with the other circumstances of the case;
the force of full proof cannot be attributed to them, however, unless other
elements are present which thoroughly corroborate them.
Can. 1537 After considering all the circumstances, it is for the judge to
decide how much value must be accorded an extrajudicial confession introduced
into the trial.
Can. 1538 A confession or any other declaration of a party lacks any force
if it is shown that it was made due to an error of fact or extorted by force or
PROOF THROUGH DOCUMENTS
Can. 1539 In any kind of trial, proof by means of both public and private
documents is allowed.
THE NATURE AND TRUSTWORTHINESS OF DOCUMENTS
Can. 1540 §1. Public ecclesiastical documents are those which a public
person has drawn up in the exercise of that person’s function in the Church,
after the solemnities prescribed by law have been observed.
§2. Public civil documents are those which the laws of each place consider to
§3. Other documents are private.
Can. 1541 Unless contrary and evident arguments prove otherwise, public
documents are to be trusted concerning everything which they directly and
Can. 1542 A private document, whether acknowledged by a party or approved by
the judge, has the same force of proof against the author or signatory and those
deriving a case from them as an extrajudicial confession. It has the same force
against those who are not parties to the case as declarations of the parties
which are not confessions, according to the norm of can. 1536, §2.
Can. 1543 If the documents are shown to have been erased, emended,
falsified, or otherwise defective, it is for the judge to decide what value, if
any, must be afforded them.
THE PRESENTATION OF DOCUMENTS
Can. 1544 Documents do not have probative force in a trial unless they are
originals or authentic copies and deposited at the tribunal chancery so that the
judge and the opposing party can examine them.
Can. 1545 The judge can order a document common to both parties to be
presented in the process.
Can. 1546 §1. Even if documents are common, no one is bound to present those
which cannot be communicated without danger of harm according to the norm of
can. 1548, §2, n. 2 or without danger of violating an obligation to observe
§2. Nonetheless, if at least some small part of a document can be transcribed
and presented in copy without the above-mentioned disadvantages, the judge can
decree that it be produced.
WITNESSES AND TESTIMONIES
Can. 1547 Proof by means of witnesses is allowed under the direction of the
judge in cases of any kind.
Can. 1548 §1. When the judge questions witnesses legitimately, they must
tell the truth.
§2. Without prejudice to the prescript of can. 1550, §2, n. 2, the following
are exempted from the obligation to respond:
1/ clerics regarding what has been made known to them by reason of sacred
ministry; civil officials, physicians, midwives, advocates, notaries, and others
bound by professional secrecy even by reason of having given advice, regarding
those matters subject to this secrecy;
2/ those who fear that from their own testimony ill repute, dangerous
hardships, or other grave evils will befall them, their spouses, or persons
related to them by consanguinity or affinity.
THOSE WHO CAN BE WITNESSES
Can. 1549 All persons can be witnesses unless the law expressly excludes
them in whole or in part.
Can. 1550 §1. Minors below the fourteenth year of age and those of limited
mental capacity are not allowed to give testimony; they can, however, be heard
by a decree of the judge which declares such a hearing expedient.
§2. The following are considered incapable:
1/ the parties in the case or those who stand for the parties at the trial,
the judge and the judge’s assistants, the advocate, and others who assist or
have assisted the parties in the same case;
2/ priests regarding all matters which they have come to know from
sacramental confession even if the penitent seeks their disclosure; moreover,
matters heard by anyone and in any way on the occasion of confession cannot be
accepted even as an indication of the truth.
THE INTRODUCTION AND EXCLUSION OF WITNESSES
Can. 1551 The party who has introduced a witness can renounce the
examination of that witness; the opposing party, however, can request that the
witness be examined nevertheless.
Can. 1552 §1. When proof through witnesses is requested, their names and
domicile are to be communicated to the tribunal.
§2. The items of discussion about which questioning of the witnesses is
sought are to be presented within the time period set by the judge; otherwise,
the request is to be considered as abandoned.
Can. 1553 It is for the judge to curb an excessive number of witnesses.
Can. 1554 Before the witnesses are examined, their names are to be
communicated to the parties; if in the prudent judgment of the judge, however,
that cannot be done without grave difficulty, it is to be done at least before
the publication of the testimonies.
Can. 1555 Without prejudice to the prescript of can. 1550, a party can
request the exclusion of a witness if a just cause for the exclusion is shown
before the questioning of the witness.
Can. 1556 The citation of a witness occurs through a decree of the judge
legitimately communicated to the witness.
Can. 1557 A witness who has been cited properly is to appear or to inform
the judge of the reason for the absence.
THE EXAMINATION OF WITNESSES
Can. 1558 §1. Witnesses must be examined at the tribunal unless the judge
§2. Cardinals, patriarchs, bishops, and those who possess a similar favor by
civil law are to be heard in the place they select.
§3. The judge is to decide where to hear those for whom it is impossible or
difficult to come to the tribunal because of distance, sickness, or some
impediment, without prejudice to the prescripts of cann. 1418 and 1469, §2.
Can. 1559 The parties cannot be present at the examination of the witnesses
unless the judge has decided to admit them, especially when the matter concerns
a private good. Their advocates or procurators, however, can be present unless
the judge has decided that the examination must proceed in secret due to the
circumstances of the matters and persons.
Can. 1560 §1. Each witness must be examined separately.
§2. If witnesses disagree among themselves or with a party in a grave matter,
the judge, after having removed discord and scandal insofar as possible, can
have those who disagree meet together or confront one another.
Can. 1561 The judge, the judge’s delegate, or an auditor examines the
witness; the examiner must have the assistance of a notary. Consequently, if the
parties, the promoter of justice, the defender of the bond, or the advocates
present at the examination have any questions to be put to the witness, they are
to propose them not to the witness but to the judge or the one who takes the
place of the judge, who is to ask the questions, unless particular law provides
Can. 1562 §1. The judge is to call to the attention of the witness the grave
obligation to speak the whole truth and only the truth.
§2. The judge is to administer an oath to the witness according to can. 1532;
a witness who refuses to take it, however, is to be heard without the oath.
Can. 1563 The judge is first of all to establish the identity of the
witness, then ask what relationship the witness has with the parties, and, when
addressing specific questions to the witness concerning the case, also inquire
about the sources of his or her knowledge and the precise time when the witness
learned what he or she asserts.
Can. 1564 The questions are to be brief, accommodated to the mental capacity
of the person being questioned, not comprised of several points at the same
time, not deceitful or deceptive or suggestive of a response, free from any kind
of offense, and pertinent to the case being tried.
Can. 1565 §1. Questions must not be communicated to the witnesses
§2. Nonetheless, if the matters about which testimony must be given are so
remote to memory that they cannot be affirmed with certainty unless previously
recalled, the judge can advise the witness beforehand on some matters if the
judge thinks this can be done without danger.
Can. 1566 Witnesses are to give testimony orally and are not to read written
materials unless they are computations and accounts; in this case, they can
consult the notes which they brought with them.
Can. 1567 §1. The notary is to write down the response immediately and must
report the exact words of the testimony given, at least in what pertains to
those points which touch directly upon the material of the trial.
§2. The use of a tape recorder can be allowed, provided that the responses
are afterwards transcribed and, if possible, signed by the deponents.
Can. 1568 The notary is to make mention in the acts of whether the oath was
taken, excused, or refused, of the presence of the parties and other persons, of
the questions added ex officio, and in general of everything worth remembering
which may have occurred while the witnesses were being examined.
Can. 1569 §1. At the end of the examination, what the notary has written
down from the deposition must be read to the witness, or what has been recorded
with the tape recorder during the deposition must be played, giving the witness
the opportunity to add, suppress, correct, or change it.
§2. Finally, the witness, the judge, and the notary must sign the acts.
Can. 1570 Although already examined, witnesses can be recalled for
examination before the acts or testimonies are published, either at the request
of a party or ex officio, if the judge decides it is necessary or useful,
provided that there is no danger of collusion or corruption.
Can. 1571 Both the expenses which the witnesses incurred and the income
which they lost by giving testimony must be reimbursed to them according to the
just assessment of the judge.
THE TRUSTWORTHINESS OF TESTIMONIES
Can. 1572 In evaluating testimony, the judge, after having requested
testimonial letters if necessary, is to consider the following:
1/ what the condition or reputation of the person is;
2/ whether the testimony derives from personal knowledge, especially from
what has been seen or heard personally, or whether from opinion, rumor, or
3/ whether the witness is reliable and firmly consistent or inconsistent,
uncertain, or vacillating;
4/ whether the witness has co-witnesses to the testimony or is supported or
not by other elements of proof.
Can. 1573 The testimony of one witness cannot produce full proof unless it
concerns a qualified witness making a deposition concerning matters done ex
officio, or unless the circumstances of things and persons suggest otherwise.
Can. 1574 The assistance of experts must be used whenever the prescript of a
law or of the judge requires their examination and opinion based on the precepts
of art or science in order to establish some fact or to discern the true nature
of some matter.
Can. 1575 After having heard the parties and their suggestions, it is for
the judge to appoint the experts or, if the case warrants, to accept reports
already drawn up by other experts.
Can. 1576 Experts are excluded or can be objected to for the same reasons as
Can. 1577 §1. Attentive to what the litigants may bring forward, the judge
is to determine in a decree the individual items upon which the services of the
expert must focus.
§2. The acts of the case and other documents and aids which the expert can
need to fulfill his or her function correctly and faithfully must be turned over
to the expert.
§3. After having heard the expert, the judge is to determine the time within
which the expert must complete the examination and produce the report.
Can. 1578 §1. Each of the experts is to prepare a report separate from the
others unless the judge decrees that one report signed by the experts
individually be drawn up; if this is done, differences of opinion, if there are
any, are to be noted carefully.
§2. Experts must indicate clearly by what documents or other suitable means
they gained certainty of the identity of the persons, things, or places, by what
manner and method they proceeded in fulfilling the function entrusted to them,
and above all on which arguments they based their conclusions.
§3. The judge can summon the expert to supply explanations which later seem
Can. 1579 §1. The judge is to weigh carefully not only the conclusions of
the experts, even if they are in agreement, but also the other circumstances of
§2. When giving reasons for the decision, the judge must express what
considerations prompted him or her to accept or reject the conclusions of the
Can. 1580 The judge must justly and equitably determine the expenses and
fees to be paid to the experts, with due regard for particular law.
Can. 1581 §1. The parties can designate private experts whom the judge must
§2. If the judge allows them, the private experts can inspect the acts of the
case insofar as necessary and attend the presentation of the expert testimony;
moreover, they can always present their own report.
JUDICIAL EXAMINATION AND INSPECTION
Can. 1582 If, in order to decide a case, the judge considers it opportune to
visit some place or to inspect some thing, the judge, after having heard the
parties, is to order it by a decree describing in summary fashion those things
which must be exhibited during the visit or inspection.
Can. 1583 When the visit or inspection has been completed, a report about it
is to be drafted.
Can. 1584 A presumption is a probable conjecture about an uncertain matter;
a presumption of law is one which the law itself establishes; a human
presumption is one which a judge formulates.
Can. 1585 A person who has a favorable presumption of law is freed from the
burden of proof, which then falls to the other party.
Can. 1586 The judge is not to formulate presumptions which are not
established by law unless they are directly based on a certain and determined
fact connected with the matter in dispute.
INCIDENTAL CASES (Cann. 1587 - 1597)
Can. 1587 An incidental case arises whenever, after the trial has begun
through the citation, a question is proposed which nevertheless pertains to the
case in such a way that it frequently must be resolved before the principal
question, even if it was not expressly contained in the libellus which
introduced the litigation.
Can. 1588 An incidental case is proposed in writing or orally before the
judge competent to decide the principal case, indicating the connection between
this and the principal case.
Can. 1589 §1. After having received the petition and heard the parties, the
judge is to decide as promptly as possible (expeditissime) whether the
proposed incidental question seems to have a foundation and a connection with
the principal trial or rather must be rejected at the outset. If the judge
admits the incidental question, the judge is to decide whether it is of such
gravity that it must be resolved by an interlocutory sentence or by a decree.
§2. If the judge decides not to resolve the incidental question before the
definitive sentence, however, the judge is to decree that the question will be
considered when the principal case is decided.
Can. 1590 §1. If the incidental question must be resolved by sentence, the
norms for the oral contentious process are to be observed unless the judge
decides otherwise due to the gravity of the matter.
§2. If the matter must be resolved by decree, however, the tribunal can
entrust the matter to an auditor or the presiding judge.
Can. 1591 Before the principal case is completed, the judge or the tribunal
can revoke or reform the decree or interlocutory sentence for a just reason
either at the request of a party or ex officio after the parties have been
PARTIES WHO DO NOT APPEAR
Can. 1592 §1. If the cited respondent has neither appeared nor given a
suitable excuse for being absent or has not responded according to the norm of
can. 1507, §1, the judge, having observed what is required, is to declare the
respondent absent from the trial and decree that the case is to proceed to the
definitive sentence and its execution.
§2. Before issuing the decree mentioned in §1, the judge must be certain that
a legitimately executed citation has reached the respondent within the useful
time, even by issuing a new citation if necessary.
Can. 1593 §1. If the respondent appears at the trial later or responds
before a decision in the case, the respondent can offer conclusions and proofs,
without prejudice to the prescript of can. 1600; the judge, however, is to take
care that the trial is not prolonged intentionally through longer and
§2. Even if the respondent did not appear or respond before a decision in the
case, the respondent can use challenges against the sentence; if the respondent
proves that there was a legitimate impediment for being detained and there was
no personal fault in its not being made known beforehand, the respondent can use
a complaint of nullity.
Can. 1594 If the petitioner has not appeared on the day and at the hour
prescribed for the joinder of the issue and has not offered a suitable excuse:
1/ the judge is to cite the petitioner again;
2/ if the petitioner does not comply with the new citation, the petitioner is
presumed to have renounced the trial according to the norm of cann. 1524-1525;
3/ if the petitioner later wishes to intervene in the process, can. 1593 is
to be observed.
Can. 1595 §1. A petitioner or respondent who is absent from the trial and
has not given proof of a just impediment is obliged both to pay the expenses of
the litigation which have accrued because of the absence and to indemnify the
other party if necessary.
§2. If both the petitioner and the respondent were absent from the trial,
they are obliged in solidum to pay the expenses of the litigation.
THE INTERVENTION OF A THIRD PERSON IN A CASE
Can. 1596 §1. A person who has an interest can be admitted to intervene in a
case at any instance of the litigation, either as a party defending a right or
in an accessory manner to help a litigant.
§2. To be admitted, the person must present a libellus to the judge before
the conclusion of the case; in the libellus the person briefly is to demonstrate
his or her right to intervene.
§3. A person who intervenes in a case must be admitted at that stage which
the case has reached, with a brief and peremptory period of time assigned to the
person to present proofs if the case has reached the probatory period.
Can. 1597 After having heard the parties, the judge must summon to the trial
a third person whose intervention seems necessary.
THE PUBLICATION OF THE ACTS, THE CONCLUSION OF THE CASE,
THE DISCUSSION OF THE CASE (Cann. 1598 - 1606)
Can. 1598 §1. After the proofs have been collected, the judge by a decree
must permit the parties and their advocates, under penalty of nullity, to
inspect at the tribunal chancery the acts not yet known to them; furthermore, a
copy of the acts can also be given to advocates who request one. In cases
pertaining to the public good to avoid a most grave danger the judge can decree
that a specific act must be shown to no one; the judge is to take care, however,
that the right of defense always remains intact.
§2. To complete the proofs, the parties can propose additional proofs to the
judge. When these proofs have been collected, it is again an occasion for the
decree mentioned in §1 if the judge thinks it necessary.
Can. 1599 §1. When everything pertaining to the production of proofs has
been completed, the conclusion of the case is reached.
§2. This conclusion occurs whenever the parties declare that they have
nothing else to add, the useful time prescribed by the judge to propose proofs
has elapsed, or the judge declares that the case is instructed sufficiently.
§3. The judge is to issue a decree that the case has reached its conclusion,
in whatever manner it has occurred.
Can. 1600 §1. After the conclusion of the case, the judge can still summon
the same or other witnesses or arrange for other proofs which were not requested
1/ in cases which concern the private good of the parties alone, if all the
2/ in other cases, after the parties have been heard and provided that there
is a grave reason and any danger of fraud or subornation is eliminated;
3/ in all cases whenever it is likely that the sentence will be unjust
because of the reasons mentioned in can. 1645, §2, nn. 1-3 unless the new proof
§2. The judge, moreover, can order or allow a document to be shown, which may
have been unable to be shown earlier through no negligence of the interested
§3. New proofs are to be published according to can. 1598, §1.
Can. 1601 After the conclusion of the case, the judge is to determine a
suitable period of time to present defense briefs or observations.
Can. 1602 §1. The defense briefs and the observations are to be written
unless the judge, with the consent of the parties, considers a debate before a
session of the tribunal to be sufficient.
§2. To print the defense briefs along with the principal documents requires
the previous permission of the judge, without prejudice to the obligation of
secrecy, if such exists.
§3. The regulations of the tribunal are to be observed regarding the length
of the defense briefs, the number of copies, and other matters of this kind.
Can. 1603 §1. When the defense briefs and observations have been
communicated to each party, either party is permitted to present responses
within the brief time period established by the judge.
§2. The parties are given this right only once unless the judge decides that
it must be granted a second time for a grave cause; then, however, the grant
made to one party is considered as given to the other also.
§3. The promoter of justice and the defender of the bond have the right to
reply a second time to the responses of the parties.
Can. 1604 §1. It is absolutely forbidden for information given to the judge
by the parties, advocates, or even other persons to remain outside the acts of
§2. If the discussion of the case has been done in writing, the judge can
order a moderate oral debate to be held before a session of the tribunal in
order to explain certain questions.
Can. 1605 A notary is to be present at the oral debate mentioned in cann.
1602, §1 and 1604, §2 so that, if the judge orders it or a party requests it and
the judge consents, the notary can immediately report in writing about what was
discussed and concluded.
Can. 1606 If the parties have neglected to prepare a defense brief within
the time available to them or have entrusted themselves to the knowledge and
conscience of the judge, and if from the acts and proofs the judge considers the
matter fully examined, the judge can pronounce the sentence immediately, after
having requested the observations of the promoter of justice and the defender of
the bond if they are involved in the trial.
THE PRONOUNCEMENTS OF THE JUDGE (Cann. 1607 - 1618)
Can. 1607 When a case has been handled in a judicial manner, if it is the
principal case, the judge decides it through the definitive sentence; if an
incidental case, through an interlocutory sentence, without prejudice to the
prescript of can. 1589, §1.
Can. 1608 §1. For the pronouncement of any sentence, the judge must have
moral certitude about the matter to be decided by the sentence.
§2. The judge must derive this certitude from the acts and the proofs.
§3. The judge, however, must appraise the proofs according to the judge’s own
conscience, without prejudice to the prescripts of law concerning the efficacy
of certain proofs.
§4. A judge who was not able to arrive at this certitude is to pronounce that
the right of the petitioner is not established and is to dismiss the respondent
as absolved, unless it concerns a case which has the favor of law, in which case
the judge must pronounce for that.
Can. 1609 §1. In a collegiate tribunal the president of the college is to
establish the date and time when the judges are to convene for deliberation;
unless a special reason suggests otherwise, the meeting is to be held at the
§2. On the date assigned for the meeting, the individual judges are to submit
their written conclusions on the merit of the case with the reasons in law and
in fact which led them to their conclusions; these conclusions are to be added
to the acts of the case and must be kept secret.
§3. After the invocation of the Divine Name, the individual judges are to
present their conclusions in order of precedence, always beginning, however,
with the ponens or relator of the case. A discussion then follows under the
leadership of the tribunal president, especially to determine what must be
established in the dispositive part of the sentence.
§4. In the discussion each judge is permitted to withdraw from his or her
original conclusion. The judge who is unwilling to assent to the decision of the
others, however, can demand that his or her conclusions be transmitted to the
higher tribunal if an appeal is made.
§5. If the judges are unwilling or unable to arrive at a sentence during the
first discussion, the decision can be deferred to a new meeting, but not for
more than a week, unless the instruction of the case must be completed according
to the norm of can. 1600.
Can. 1610 §1. If there is only one judge, he will write the sentence
§2. In a collegiate tribunal, it is for the ponens or relator to write the
sentence, selecting the reasons from those the individual judges brought forth
during the discussion, unless a majority of the judges have already determined
the reasons to be presented. The sentence must then be submitted for the
approval of the individual judges.
§3. The sentence must be issued no more than a month from the day on which
the case was decided unless in a collegiate tribunal the judges set a longer
period for a grave reason.
Can. 1611 The sentence must:
1/ decide the controversy deliberated before the tribunal with an appropriate
response given to the individual doubts;
2/ determine what obligations have arisen for the parties from the trial and
how they must be fulfilled;
3/ set forth the reasons or motives in law and in fact on which the
dispositive part of the sentence is based;
4/ determine the expenses of the litigation.
Can. 1612 §1. After the invocation of the Divine Name, the sentence must
express in order the judge or the tribunal, the petitioner, the respondent, and
the procurator, with their names and domiciles correctly designated, and the
promoter of justice and defender of the bond if they took part in the trial.
§2. Next, it must briefly relate the facts together with the conclusions of
the parties and the formula of the doubts.
§3. The dispositive part of the sentence follows the above, preceded by the
reasons on which it is based.
§4. It is to conclude with the indication of the date and the place where it
was rendered, with the signature of the judge or, if it is a collegiate
tribunal, of all the judges, and the notary.
Can. 1613 The rules proposed above for a definitive sentence are to be
adapted for an interlocutory sentence.
Can. 1614 The sentence is to be published as soon as possible, with an
indication of the means by which it can be challenged. It has no force before
publication even if the dispositive part was made known to the parties with the
permission of the judge.
Can. 1615 Publication or communication of the sentence can be done either by
giving a copy of the sentence to the parties or their procurators or by sending
them a copy according to the norm of can. 1509.
Can. 1616 §1. If in the text of the sentence an error in calculations turns
up, a material error occurs in transcribing the dispositive section or in
relating the facts or the petitions of the parties, or the requirements of can.
1612, §4 are omitted, the tribunal which rendered the sentence must correct or
complete it either at the request of a party or ex officio, but always after the
parties have been heard and a decree appended to the bottom of the sentence.
§2. If any party objects, the incidental question is to be decided by a
Can. 1617 Other pronouncements of the judge besides the sentence are
decrees, which have no force if they are not merely procedural unless they
express the reasons at least in a summary fashion or refer to reasons expressed
in another act.
Can. 1618 An interlocutory sentence or a decree has the force of a
definitive sentence if it prevents a trial or puts an end to a trial or some
grade of a trial with respect to at least some party in the case.
CHALLENGE OF THE SENTENCE (Cann. 1619 - 1640)
COMPLAINT OF NULLITY AGAINST THE SENTENCE
Can. 1619 Without prejudice to cann. 1622 and 1623, whenever a case involves
the good of private persons, the sentence itself sanates the nullities of acts
established by positive law which were not declared to the judge before the
sentence even though they were known to the party proposing the complaint.
Can. 1620 A sentence suffers from the defect of irremediable nullity if:
1/ it was rendered by an absolutely incompetent judge;
2/ it was rendered by a person who lacks the power of judging in the tribunal
in which the case was decided;
3/ a judge rendered a sentence coerced by force or grave fear;
4/ the trial took place without the judicial petition mentioned in can. 1501
or was not instituted against some respondent;
5/ it was rendered between parties, at least one of whom did not have
standing in the trial;
6/ someone acted in the name of another without a legitimate mandate;
7/ the right of defense was denied to one or the other party;
8/ it did not decide the controversy even partially.
Can. 1621 The complaint of nullity mentioned in can. 1620 can be proposed by
way of exception in perpetuity and also by way of action before the judge who
rendered the sentence within ten years from the date of the publication of the
Can. 1622 A sentence suffers from the defect of remediable nullity only if:
1/ it was rendered by an illegitimate number of judges contrary to the
prescript of can. 1425, §1;
2/ it does not contain the motives or reasons for the decision;
3/ it lacks the signatures prescribed by law;
4/ it does not indicate the year, month, day, and place in which it was
5/ it is based on a null judicial act whose nullity was not sanated according
to the norm of can. 1619;
6/ it was rendered against a party legitimately absent according to can.
Can. 1623 A complaint of nullity in the cases mentioned in can. 1622 can be
proposed within three months from the notice of the publication of the sentence.
Can. 1624 The judge who rendered the sentence deals with the complaint of
nullity. If the party fears that the judge who rendered the sentence challenged
by the complaint of nullity is prejudiced and therefore considers the judge
suspect, the party can demand that another judge be substituted according to the
norm of can. 1450.
Can. 1625 A complaint of nullity can be proposed together with an appeal
within the time established for an appeal.
Can. 1626 §1. Not only the parties who consider themselves aggrieved can
introduce a complaint of nullity but also the promoter of justice and the
defender of the bond whenever they have the right to intervene.
§2. The judge can retract or emend ex officio a null sentence, which that
judge has rendered, within the time limit for acting established by can. 1623
unless an appeal together with a complaint of nullity has been introduced in the
meantime or the nullity has been sanated through the expiration of the time
limit mentioned in can. 1623.
Can. 1627 Cases concerning a complaint of nullity can be treated according
to the norms for the oral contentious process.
Can. 1628 A party who considers himself or herself aggrieved by any sentence
as well as the promoter of justice and the defender of the bond in cases which
require their presence have the right to appeal the sentence to a higher judge,
without prejudice to the prescript of can. 1629.
Can. 1629 There is no appeal:
1/ from a sentence of the Supreme Pontiff himself or the Apostolic Signatura;
2/ from a sentence tainted by a defect of nullity, unless the appeal is
joined with a complaint of nullity according to the norm of can. 1625;
3/ from a sentence which has become a res iudicata;
4/ from a decree of a judge or from an interlocutory sentence which does not
have the force of a definitive sentence, unless it is joined with an appeal from
a definitive sentence;
5/ from a sentence or a decree in a case where the law requires the matter to
be decided as promptly as possible (expeditissime).
Can. 1630 §1. An appeal must be introduced before the judge who rendered the
sentence within the peremptory period of fifteen useful days from the notice of
the publication of the sentence.
§2. If an appeal is made orally, the notary is to put it in writing in the
presence of the appellant.
Can. 1631 If a question arises about the right to appeal, the appellate
tribunal deals with it as promptly as possible (expeditissime) according
to the norms of the oral contentious process.
Can. 1632 §1. If the appeal does not indicate the tribunal to which it is
directed, it is presumed to be made to the tribunal mentioned in cann. 1438 and
§2. If the other party has appealed to another appellate tribunal, the
tribunal of higher grade deals with the case, without prejudice to can. 1415.
Can. 1633 An appeal must be pursued before the appellate judge within a
month from its introduction unless the judge from whom appeal is made has
established a longer period for a party to pursue it.
Can. 1634 §1. To pursue an appeal it is required and suffices that a party
calls upon the services of a higher judge for an emendation of the challenged
sentence, attaches a copy of this sentence, and indicates the reasons for the
§2. If a party cannot obtain a copy of the challenged sentence from the
tribunal from which appeal is made within the useful time, the time limits do
not run in the meantime; the impediment must be made known to the appellate
judge who is to bind the judge from whom appeal is made by a precept to fulfill
that judge’s duty as soon as possible.
§3. Meanwhile the judge from whom appeal is made must transmit the acts to
the appellate judge according to the norm of can. 1474.
Can. 1635 Once the deadline for appeal has passed without action either
before the judge from whom the appeal is made or before the appellate judge, the
appeal is considered abandoned.
Can. 1636 §1. The appellant can renounce the appeal with the effects
mentioned in can. 1525.
§2. If the defender of the bond or the promoter of justice has introduced the
appeal, the defender of the bond or the promoter of justice of the appellate
tribunal can renounce it, unless the law provides otherwise.
Can. 1637 §1. An appeal made by the petitioner also benefits the respondent
and vice versa.
§2. If there are several respondents or petitioners and the sentence is
challenged by only one or against only one of them, the challenge is considered
to be made by all of them and against all of them whenever the matter sought is
indivisible or a joint obligation.
§3. If one party introduces an appeal against one ground of the sentence, the
other party can appeal incidentally against other grounds within the peremptory
period of fifteen days from the day on which the original appeal was made known
to the latter, even if the deadline for an appeal has passed.
§4. Unless it is otherwise evident, an appeal is presumed to be made against
all the grounds of a sentence.
Can. 1638 An appeal suspends the execution of the sentence.
Can. 1639 §1. Without prejudice to the prescript of can. 1683, a new cause
for petitioning cannot be admitted at the appellate grade, not even by way of
useful accumulation; consequently, the joinder of the issue can only address
whether the prior sentence is to be con-firmed or revised either totally or
§2. New proofs, however, are admitted only according to the norm of can.
Can. 1640 The appellate grade must proceed in the same manner as first
instance with appropriate adjustments; immediately after the issue has been
joined according to the norm of can. 1513, §1 and can. 1639, §1 and unless the
proofs possibly must be completed, the discussion of the case is to take place
and the sentence rendered.
RES IUDICATA AND RESTITUTIO IN INTEGRUM (Cann. 1641 -
Can. 1641 Without prejudice to the prescript of can. 1643, a res
1/ if a second concordant sentence is rendered between the same parties over
the same issue and on the same cause for petitioning;
2/ if an appeal against the sentence has not been introduced within the
3/ if at the appellate grade, the trial has been abated or renounced;
4/ if a definitive sentence has been rendered from which there is no appeal
according to the norm of can. 1629.
Can. 1642 §1. A res iudicata possesses the stability of law and cannot be
challenged directly except according to the norm of can. 1645, §1.
§2. It establishes the rights between the parties and permits an action for
execution and an exception of res iudicata which the judge can also declare ex
officio in order to prevent a new introduction of the same case.
Can. 1643 Cases concerning the status of persons, including cases concerning
the separation of spouses, never become res iudicata.
Can. 1644 §1. If a second concordant sentence has been rendered in a case
concerning the status of persons, recourse can be made at any time to the
appellate tribunal if new and grave proofs or arguments are brought forward
within the peremptory time limit of thirty days from the proposed challenge.
Within a month from when the new proofs and arguments are brought forward,
however, the appellate tribunal must establish by decree whether a new
presentation of the case must be admitted or not.
§2. Recourse to a higher tribunal in order to obtain a new presentation of
the case does not suspend the execution of the sentence unless either the law
provides otherwise or the appellate tribunal orders its suspension according to
the norm of can. 1650, §3.
RESTITUTIO IN INTEGRUM
Can. 1645 §1. Restitutio in integrum is granted against a
sentence which has become res iudicata provided that its injustice is
§2. Injustice, however, is not considered to be established clearly unless:
1/ the sentence is based on proofs which afterwards are discovered to be
false in such a way that without those proofs the dispositive part of the
sentence is not sustained;
2/ documents have been revealed afterwards which undoubtedly prove new facts
and demand a contrary decision;
3/ the sentence was rendered due to the malice of one party resulting in harm
to the other party;
4/ a prescript of the law which is not merely procedural was clearly
5/ the sentence is contrary to a previous decision which has become res
Can. 1646 §1. Restitutio in integrum for the reasons mentioned in
can. 1645, §2, nn. 1-3 must be sought from the judge who rendered the sentence
within three months computed from the day the person became aware of these same
§2. Restitutio in integrum for the reasons mentioned in can. 1645 §2,
nn. 4 and 5 must be sought from the appellate tribunal within three months from
the notice of the publication of the sentence; if in the case mentioned in can.
1645, §2, n. 5 notice of the previous decision occurs later, however, the time
limit runs from this notice.
§3. The time limits mentioned above do not run as long as the injured person
is a minor.
Can. 1647 §1. The petition for restitutio in integrum suspends the
execution of a sentence if execution has not yet begun.
§2. If from probable indications there is a suspicion that a petition has
been made in order to delay the execution, however, the judge can decree
execution of the sentence, though with suitable guarantees to the one seeking
the restitutio that there will be indemnity if the restitutio in
integrum is granted.
Can. 1648 If restitutio in integrum is granted, the judge must
pronounce on the merits of the case.
JUDICIAL EXPENSES AND GRATUITOUS LEGAL ASSISTANCE (Can. 1649)
Can. 1649 §1. The bishop who directs the tribunal is to establish norms
1/ the requirement of the parties to pay or compensate judicial expenses;
2/ the fees for the procurators, advocates, experts, and interpreters and the
indemnity for the witnesses;
3/ the grant of gratuitous legal assistance or reduction of the expenses;
4/ the recovery of damages owed by a person who not only lost the trial but
also entered into the litigation rashly;
5/ the deposit of money or the provision furnished for the payment of
expenses and recovery of damages.
§2. There is no separate appeal from the determination of expenses, fees, and
recovery of damages, but the party can make recourse within fifteen days to the
same judge who can adjust the assessment.
THE EXECUTION OF THE SENTENCE (Cann. 1650 - 1655)
Can. 1650 §1. A sentence that has become a res iudicata can be executed,
without prejudice to the prescript of can.
§2. The judge who rendered the sentence and, if an appeal has been proposed,
also the appellate judge can order ex officio or at the request of a party a
provisional execution of a sentence which has not yet become res iudicata, after
having set suitable guarantees, if the case warrants, for provisions or payments
ordered for necessary support; they can also do so if some other just cause
§3. If the sentence mentioned in §2 is challenged, the judge who must
investigate the challenge can suspend the execution or subject it to a guarantee
if the judge sees that the challenge is probably well founded and irreparable
damage can arise from execution.
Can. 1651 Execution cannot occur prior to the executory decree of the judge
which declares that the sentence must be executed. This decree is to be included
in the text of the sentence or issued separately according to the particular
nature of the cases.
Can. 1652 If the execution of a sentence requires a prior rendering of
accounts, it is an incidental question which the same judge who rendered the
sentence ordering the execution must decide.
Can. 1653 §1. Unless particular law establishes otherwise, the bishop of the
diocese in which the sentence was rendered in the first grade must execute the
sentence personally or through another.
§2. If he refuses or neglects to do this, the execution of the sentence,
either at the request of an interested party or even ex officio, pertains to the
authority to whom the appellate tribunal is subject according to the norm of
can. 1439, §3.
§3. Among religious the execution of the sentence pertains to the superior
who rendered the sentence to be executed or the superior who delegated the
Can. 1654 §1. Unless the text of the sentence leaves it to the judgment of
the executor, the executor must execute the sentence according to the obvious
sense of the words.
§2. The executor is permitted to deal with exceptions concerning the manner
and force of the execution but not concerning the merit of the case. If it is
discovered from another source that the sentence is null or manifestly unjust
according to the norm of cann. 1620, 1622, and 1645, the executor is to refrain
from executing it and, after having informed the parties, is to refer the matter
to the tribunal which rendered the sentence.
Can. 1655 §1. In real actions, whenever the petitioner is awarded something,
it must be handed over to the petitioner as soon as there is a res iudicata.
§2. In personal actions, when the guilty party is condemned to furnish a
movable thing, to pay money, or to give or do something else, the judge in the
text of the sentence or the executor according to his or her judgment and
prudence is to establish a time limit to fulfill the obligation; this time
limit, however, is not to be less than fifteen days nor more than six months.
THE ORAL CONTENTIOUS PROCESS (Cann. 1656 - 1670)
Can. 1656 §1. All cases not excluded by law can be treated in the oral
contentious process mentioned in this section unless a party requests the
ordinary contentious process.
§2. If the oral process is used outside of the cases permitted in law, the
judicial acts are null.
Can. 1657 The oral contentious process takes place in the first grade before
a single judge according to the norm of can. 1424.
Can. 1658 §1. In addition to the things enumerated in can. 1504, the
libellus which introduces the litigation must:
1/ set forth briefly, completely, and clearly the facts on which the requests
of the petitioner are based;
2/ indicate the proofs by which the petitioner intends to demonstrate the
facts but which cannot be presented at once, in such a way that the judge can
collect them immediately.
§2. The documents on which the petition is based must be attached to the
libellus, at least in an authentic copy.
Can. 1659 §1. If the attempt at reconciliation according to the norm of can.
1446, §2 proved useless and the judge thinks that the libellus has some
foundation, the judge is to order within three days by a decree appended to the
bottom of the libellus that a copy of the petition be communicated to the
respondent, giving to the latter the opportunity to send a written response to
the tribunal chancery within fifteen days.
§2. This notification has the effect of the judicial citation mentioned in
Can. 1660 If the exceptions of the respondent demand it, the judge is to
establish a time limit for the petitioner to respond, in such a way that from
the points brought forth by both of the parties the judge clarifies the object
of the controversy.
Can. 1661 §1. When the time limits mentioned in cann. 1659 and 1660 have
elapsed, the judge, after an examination of the acts, is to determine the
formula of the doubt. Next, the judge is to cite all those who must take part to
a hearing which must be held within thirty days; the formula of the doubt is to
be attached to the citation of the parties.
§2. In the citation the parties are to be informed that they can present a
brief written statement to the tribunal to verify their claims at least three
days before the hearing.
Can. 1662 At the hearing the questions mentioned in cann. 1459-1464 are
Can. 1663 §1. The proofs are collected at the hearing without prejudice to
the prescript of can. 1418.
§2. A party and his or her advocate can be present at the examination of the
other parties, the witnesses, and the experts.
Can. 1664 The notary must put into writing the responses of the parties, the
witnesses, and the experts and the petitions and exceptions of the advocates,
but in a summary fashion and only in those matters pertaining to the substance
of the dispute; the deponents must sign these acts.
Can. 1665 The judge can admit proofs which are not brought forth or sought
in the petition or response only according to the norm of can. 1452. After even
one witness has been heard, however, the judge can only decide about new proofs
according to the norm of can. 1600.
Can. 1666 If all the proofs were not able to be collected during the
hearing, a second hearing is to be scheduled.
Can. 1667 When the proofs have been collected, the oral discussion takes
place at the same hearing.
Can. 1668 §1. Unless the discussion reveals that something must be supplied
in the instruction of the case or something else turns up which prevents a
proper pronouncement of the sentence, at the completion of the hearing the judge
in private is to decide the case immediately; the dispositive part of the
sentence is to be read at once before the parties who are present.
§2. The tribunal can defer the decision up to the fifth useful day because of
the difficulty of the matter or for some other just cause.
§3. The complete text of the sentence with the reasons expressed is to be
communicated to the parties as soon as possible, ordinarily in not more than
Can. 1669 If the appellate tribunal discovers that the oral contentious
process was used at a lower grade of a trial in cases excluded by law, it is to
declare the nullity of the sentence and remit the case to the tribunal which
rendered the sentence.
Can. 1670 In other matters pertaining to the manner of proceeding, the
prescripts of the canons for the ordinary contentious trial are to be observed.
In order to expedite matters without prejudice to justice, however, the
tribunal, by a decree expressing the reasons for its decision, can derogate from
procedural norms which have not been established for validity.