30 years of MEDEL- Alert Day for Justice
DIGNITY, SOLIDARITY, JUSTICE
23rd May 2015
Goodmorning dear Ladies and Gentlemen, Presidents, distinguished speakers and participants,
It is a great honour and pleasure for me to be amongst you today at the foot of Acropolis to celebrate the 30 year of MEDEL. I want to warmly thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak about the importance of the efforts to make justice systems more effective and the rule of law in the European Union,here in Athens the birthplace of democracy!
Judges have always played a key role for the respect of rule of law and the values upon which the
European Union is founded and MEDEL,since it was founded, has actively contributed to their
respect andpromotion within the Union(e.g. the valuable contribution to the Conference “Les
Assisses de la Justice” organised by the Commission in November 2013)
The European Union is a unique construction; it is not just a common market; it is a Union of shared values which is bound together by the strength of the rule of law and the principle of an effective judicial protection. These are founding principles stemming from the common constitutional traditions common to all EU Member States. Creating “An area of justice and fundamental rights based on mutual trust” is one of the political priorities of the new European Commission headed by President Juncker.
The rule of law is one of the fundamental values upon which the European Union is based. Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union (“TEU”) confirms this. Respect for the rule of law is a prerequisite for the protection of all fundamental values listed in the Treaties, including democracy and fundamental rights. It is also a precondition for upholding all rights and obligations deriving from the Treaties and from international law. Finally, it is crucial for establishing mutual trust between Member States and their legal systems. This is also why – under Article 49 TEU – respect for the rule of law is a precondition for EU membership.
The principle of an effective judicial protectionhas been enshrined inArt. 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and has binding force as the Charter forms part of the EU Treaties since 2009. The right to an effective remedy before a tribunal has become likewise a fundamental right at the core of the EU legal order.
Article 47 guarantees the right to an effective remedy and to a fair trial;it is applicable in relation to the rights conferred by the Union’s lawand plays a key role for the implementation of the EU law and the enforcement Union’s common values.
….What constitutes an effective justice system?
Whatever the model of the national justice system or the legal tradition in which it is anchored, quality, independence and efficiency have always been essential parameters of an effective justice system. These three elements must therefore be present for a justice system to ensure its effectiveness.
The effectiveness of justice systems is crucial for the implementation of EU law. Whenever a national court applies EU legislation, it acts as a “Union” court and must provide effective judicial protection to everyone, whose rights guaranteed in EU law have been violated.
Well-functioning and effective justice systems have also proved to play a key role in creating an investment friendly environment and restoring confidence for citizens and businesses; both very much needed to support sustainable growth and maintain social peace and stability.
This is why since 2012 the improvement of the quality, independence and efficiency of national justice has become a priority in the European Semester the EU cycle of structural reforms and economic policy coordination.
It was at that moment that the need for a tool like the EU Justice Scoreboardemerged!
The EU Justice Scoreboard
The EU Justice Scoreboard is an information tool which provides each year a factual analysis of the justice systems in the Member States. Its purpose is to assist Member States to improve the effectiveness of their justice system by providing comparable data on quality, independence and efficiency of the civil, commercial and administrative judicial systems. Together with individual country assessments, it contributes to identifying potential shortcomings,improvements and good practices and to encouraging Member States to carry out the necessary, structural reforms in the area of justice.
The EU Justice Scoreboard does not present an overall single ranking. Its aim is not a beauty contest to find the best judicial system in Europe. It only provides an overview of the functioning of national justice systems on the basis of various indicators which are of common interest to all Member States.
The EU justice Scoreboard was presented for the first time in 2013 and its third edition was published on 9 March 2015.
It is important to note that the EU Justice Scoreboard is not the only source of information. Poor performance on Scoreboard indicators always requires a deeper analysis of the reasons behind the result. This country-specific assessment is carried out through bilateral dialogue with Member Stateswhich enable to take into account the particularities of the legal system and the context of the concerned Member State. This assessment may lead the Commission to propose to the Council to adopt country-specific recommendations to improve the functioning of national justice systems.
Data source for the EU Justice Scoreboard -Data comes from different sources:
Most of the quantitative data are currently provided by the Council of Europe Commission for the Evaluation of the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ) with which the Commission has concluded a contract in order to carry out a specific annual study.
The Commission has also used other sources of information such as Eurostat. For independence, the Commission has used information collected through the European judicial networks (in particular the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary and the Network of the Presidents of the Supreme Judicial Courts of the EU).Other data have been obtained through European networks of national authorities and through the group of contact persons on national justice systems established by the Commission.
Now let me briefly run through the main findings and novelties of the 2015 EU Justice Scoreboard.
As in the previous years, the 2015 EU Justice Scoreboard presents indicators related to the efficiency, quality and independence of justice systems and for the first time it seeks to identify some possible trends in this respect. A number of indicators remain the same as in the previous editions so that their evolution can be followed. However, this year a particular attention was paid to provide better and more telling information on the quality of justice systems. More fine-tuned data are presented and new parameters are included. For example, the 2015 Scoreboard provides the outcome of a study on the quality of online small claim procedures and is also looking at courts’ communication policies with citizens. It examines how alternative dispute resolution methods are used in practice by consumers and how far such methods are promoted in Member States. It also gives information on gender balance in the judiciary. It presents the share of female professional judgesas more gender diversity can contribute to a better quality of justice systems.
Large-scale justice reforms
One of the main novelties of the 2015 EU Justice Scoreboard is that for the first time it presents a mapping of the justice reforms undertaken in 2014 by almost all Member States
The scope, scale and state of play of this process vary significantly, as well as the objectives pursued. Some affect operational aspects like the use of new information and communication technologies in courts. Others include more structural measures such as restructuring the court organisation, re-designing the judicial map, reforming the Council for the Judiciary or simplifying procedural rules and legal aid.
However, we all know that justice reforms take time to produce results and patience is needed….!.
In this context, I would like to mention the large-scale judicial reforms which have been taking place in Greece for the last 4 years. These reforms affect a wide range of issues, namely: profound reform of the judicial map as regards EIRINODIKEIA (Magistrate Courts), creation of a legal framework for extrajudicial mediation and promotion of mediation including through the website of the Ministry of Justice; another major on-going reform are the steps taken toimprove the collection and publication of judicial statistics andthe use and promotion of e-justice. Work is still on-going as regards the finalisation of the huge effort to reform the Code of Civil Procedure.
I am pleased to mention that the efforts to modernise the Administrative Justice are reflected in the EU Justice Scoreboard 2015 as regards the length of proceeding for administrative cases.
The Commission welcomes and assists Member States in implementing the necessary reformsby making available EU funds to support theseefforts.
In this respect, the findings of the EU Justice Scoreboard together with the country specific assessment and recommendations are taken into account for setting out the funding priorities under the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF). At the start of the new programming period 2014-2020, the Commission engaged in an intensive dialogue with Member States on establishing the strategic funding priorities of the ESI Funds in order to encourage a close link between policy and funding.
Justice delayed is justice denied. Timely decisions are essential for businesses and investors.
For examining the efficiency of justice systems, the EU Justice Scoreboard uses three standard indicators: the length of proceedings, the clearance rate and the number of pending cases.
As it is in its third edition,the 2015 Scoreboard seeks to identify some possible trends. However, a cautious and nuanced approach is needed because the situation varies significantly, depending on the respective Member State and indicator. Furthermore, data are not always available for all Member States and for all the years covered.
In general, for those Member States for which data are available, some improvement in the efficiency of justice systems in Member States can be observed. Overall, over the 3 years covered, it appears that more Member States show a positive rather than a negative trend in terms of time needed to resolve a case in a court and the clearance rate in civil, commercial and administrative cases.
The efficient and fast resolution of judicial proceedingsisimportant but not enough. Effective justice requires quality throughout the whole justice chain. All Member States are taking measures to support the quality of their justice systems.
Whilst there is no single agreed way of measuring the quality of a justice system -in particular in terms of output or result indicators -, the EU Justice Scoreboard uses parameters, generally accepted as relevant, which focus on certain factors that can help to improve the quality of the justice system –the so-called input indicators- such as training of judges, monitoring and evaluation of court activities, budget for courts, human resources allocated to the judiciary. A key element of quality is also the availability of performing information and communication technologies tools for the administration and management of courts and for electronic communications between courts and parties.
The 2015 EU Justice Scoreboard also presents new factors such as: the quality of online small claim procedures, courts’ communication policies with citizens, how alternative dispute resolution methods are used by consumers,and how far such methods are promoted in Member States, and gender balance in the judiciary.
As a general observation, we can say that the performance of Member States as regards the quality of the justice system varies a lot depending on the indicators and that in general that there is scope to pursue and enhance efforts to support the quality of judicial systems.
The third element of an effective justice system, together with quality and efficiency, is independence.
Judicial independence is a requirement stemming from the right to an effective remedy enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU. The rule of law means among others that justice is upheld by an independent judiciary, acting impartially. It means ultimately a system where justice is not only done, but it seen to be done, so the system can be trusted by all citizens to deliver justice.
As in the previous years, the 2015 Scoreboard presents data on perceived independence.
However, while perceived independence is important, it is also crucial that judicial independence is effectively protected through legal safeguards.
The 2015 Scoreboard provides updated and expanded information on the legal safeguards aiming at protecting judicial independence such as the transfer of judges without their consent or their dismissal (Structural independence). It presents a mapping of these legal safeguards without making any assessment or presenting quantitative data on their effectiveness.
The EU Justice Scoreboard is an evolving tool which reflects the efforts undertaken by Member States to render their national justice systems more effective. It is encouraging to see that a large process of justice reforms is taking place in Member States. This dynamic deserves continuesjoint efforts from the Member States, all the stakeholders and the Commission.
The New EU Framework to Strengthen the Rule of Law
In recent years the Commission has been confronted with crisis events in some Member States (Hungary, Romania), which revealed systemic threats to the rule of law. The European Commission – with its Communication of March 2014 – adopted a new Framework to strengthen the rule of law in any of the EU’s Member States.
The objective of the new EU Rule of Law Framework is to addresssystemic threats to the rule of law, which cannot be effectively addressed by existing tools at EU level (notably infringement proceedings). There is a systemic threat to the rule of law when the national mechanisms and safeguards to protect the rule of law – all judicial and constitutional mechanisms and safeguards which ensure the protection of democracy and fundamental rights in a Member State, in particular the national courts – no longer function or, for instance, in case their independence comes under threat.
The Framework allows the Commission to start a dialogue with an EU Member State concerned to prevent the escalation of an emerging systemic threat. It establishes a three-stage process: a Commission assessment, a Commission recommendation (which will be made public) and monitoring of the Member State’s follow-up to the Commission’s recommendation. At all stages, dialogue should continue between the Commission and the Member State concerned. If however no solution is found within the new framework, Article 7 TEU will always remain the last resort to resolve a crisis and ensure the Member State complies with EU values. Article 7 TEUprovides for a far reaching sanction mechanism specifically designed to ensure respect for the fundamental values of Article 2 TEU and ultimately allows for the suspension of certain of the rights deriving from the application of the Treaties to the Member State in question, including the voting rights of the representative of the government of that Member State in the Council.
We have a lot to learn from each other’s systems and this knowledge is a treasure for the benefit of Justice and its end users in the European Union.
MEDEL is a tangible example for exchanging and sharing such knowledge – so keep up the good work!
Best wishes on your 30th anniversary!
DeputyHead of Unit
Directorate-General Justice and Consumers
General justice policies and judicial systems