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Questions & Answers: EU Justice Scoreboard

Commission Européenne - MEMO/13/288   27/03/2013

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European Commission

MEMO

Brussels, 27 March 2013

Questions & Answers: EU Justice Scoreboard

What is the European Semester?

The European Commission has set up a yearly cycle of economic policy coordination called the European Semester. Each year the European Commission undertakes a detailed analysis of EU Member States' programmes of economic and structural reforms and provides them with recommendations for the next 12-18 months.

The European semester cycle starts when the Commission adopts its Annual Growth Survey, usually towards the end of the year, which sets out EU priorities for the coming year to boost growth and job creation.

For a graphic representation of the cycle, see here.

How can justice support growth?

Effective justice systems are important structural components of an attractive business environment: trusting that the rule of law is fully upheld directly translates into the confidence to invest in the economy.

This is why improving the quality, independence and efficiency of national judicial systems is a key priority in the European Semester – the EU’s annual cycle of economic policy coordination.

Since 2011, national judicial reforms have been an integral part of Economic Adjustment Programmes, notably in Greece, Ireland, Latvia and Portugal.

Since 2012, the efficiency of national justice systems has been a key component of the European Semester exercise. The Annual Growth Survey 2013 highlights the importance of improving the quality, independence and efficiency of national judicial systems.

What is the EU Justice Scoreboard?

The EU Justice Scoreboard is a tool to assist the EU and the Member States in achieving more effective justice by providing objective, reliable and comparable data on the functioning of justice systems in all Member States.

Improving the quality, independence and efficiency of judicial systems already forms part of the EU’s economic policy coordination process under the European Semester. The new Justice Scoreboard will now systematically assess and compare the efficiency, strength and reliability of the justice systems in all 27 EU Member States.

The Justice Scoreboard is a cooperative mechanism, relying on data drawn from the Member States. While the Scoreboard includes a comparison on particular indicators, it is not intended to present an overall single ranking, or to promote any particular form of justice system.

What does it measure?

The scoreboard is based primarily on indicators for judicial efficiency: the length of proceedings (disposition time), clearance rate (rate of resolving cases), and number of pending cases.

The scoreboard also examines indicators which help to improve the quality and efficiency of justice systems, notably monitoring and evaluation of court activities, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) systems for courts, alternative dispute resolution methods and training of judges.

Given its economic focus, the scope of the 2013 exercise concentrates on efficiency indicators for civil, commercial and administrative cases.

The scoreboard also presents findings based on indicators relating to the perceived independence of the justice system. Perception of independence is important for identifying the level of trust in a judicial system. In line with legal maxim: Justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done.

Where does the data come from?

The data was supplied mainly by the Member States. The Council of Europe Commission for the Evaluation of the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ), upon request of the Commission, collected and analysed the data received from the Member States.

The scoreboard also uses data from other sources, including the World Bank, World Economic Forum and World Justice Project.

Why are some data missing?

The experience with the 2013 Scoreboard reveals the difficulty of gathering reliable and comparable data. Some Member States do not collect data in a way which allows for an objective evaluation and comparison with other Member States. In addition to the difficulty to obtain comparable data, some data are missing when they have not been supplied by the Member States to the CEPEJ.

The Commission will address this data gap by examining ways to improve data collection.

Why are justice systems important for EU law?

The effectiveness of national justice systems is crucial for the effectiveness of all EU law, be it for EU economic laws, or for EU consumer protection or environment legislation.

Whenever a national court upholds EU law, it acts as a ‘European Union court’. For example, national courts play an essential role in enforcing EU competition law and other legislation crucial for the Single Market, in particular in e-commerce, intellectual property, public procurement, environment and consumer protection. National courts should provide effective judicial protection to everyone, citizens and businesses, whose rights guaranteed in EU law have been violated.

Shortcomings in a national justice system are thus not only a problem for a particular Member State, but can affect the functioning of the Single Market and, more generally, the whole EU legal system, which is based on mutual trust.

How will the scoreboard be used, concretely?

The key findings of the 2013 Scoreboard highlight the priority areas that need to be addressed. The European Commission will translate these priorities into the following actions:

  1. The issues identified in the Scoreboard will be taken into account in preparing the forthcoming country specific analysis of the 2013 European Semester. They will also guide the work in the context of the Economic Adjustment Programmes.

  2. Regional Development and Social Funds will be available for reforms of the judicial systems in the next multi-annual financial framework.

  3. The Commission will work with the Member States to improve the quality and availability of comparable data for future exercises.

Will the EU Justice Scoreboard replace the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism?

No, this is not the purpose of the Justice Scoreboard exercise.

The Cooperation and Verification mechanism is specific to Bulgaria and Romania. When they joined the EU on 1 January 2007, Romania and Bulgaria still had progress to make in the fields of judicial reform, corruption and organised crime. So to smooth the entry of both countries and at the same time safeguard the workings of its policies and institutions, the EU decided to establish a special "cooperation and verification mechanism" to help them address these outstanding shortcomings.

The Justice Scoreboard is a comparative tool which covers all Member States. It aims to present trends in the functioning of national justice systems over times. It is not a binding mechanism, but is rather intended to help identify issues that deserve particular attention.

Is the Justice Scoreboard the new rule of law mechanism mentioned by President Barroso in this 2012 State of the Union speech?

No, this is a different initiative.

In his 2012 State of the Union speech, European Commission President Barroso said; "In recent months we have seen threats to the legal and democratic fabric in some of our European states. The European Parliament and the Commission were the first to raise the alarm and played the decisive role in seeing these worrying developments brought into check.

But these situations also revealed limits of our institutional arrangements. We need a better developed set of instruments– not just the alternative between the "soft power" of political persuasion and the "nuclear option" of article 7 of the Treaty."

The Justice Scoreboard provides reliable and comparable data on the efficiency, quality and independence of national justice systems which can be used to support recommendations made to the Member States in the context of the European Semester. It is not a mechanism for guaranteeing the rule of law across the EU.

It could be that in some years, the Justice Scoreboard could be used to develop a broader mechanism as described by President Barroso. This would require further debate and preparation.

What are the main conclusions of this first edition?

The key findings of the 2013 Scoreboard highlight the priority areas that need to be addressed:

The length of judicial proceedings varies considerably between EU Member States with one third of Member States having a length of proceedings at least two times greater than the majority of Member States. Problems can be compounded where low rates of resolving cases lead to an increasing number of pending cases. The reduction of the excessive length of proceedings should be a priority in order to improve the business environment and attractiveness for investment.

  1. Monitoring and evaluation help to improve the speed and quality of justice. While most Member States have a comprehensive monitoring system, several lag behind.

  2. Electronic systems for registering and managing cases and for communication between courts and parties, improve judicial efficiency and quality. There are currently large disparities between countries in in use of systems of information exchange between courts and the parties.

  3. Alternative methods for resolving disputes, such as mediation reduce the workload of courts. These should be used more widely.

  4. Training for judges and adequate resources are important ways to improve effectiveness of justice. There are large variations among Member States as regards compulsory training and there are different approaches regarding resources in justice systems.

  5. Perceptions of the independence of national justice systems also vary widely. Even though several Member States are among the top 10 worldwide leaders in terms of the perception of judicial independence, there is a rather low level of perception of judicial independence by business end-users of the justice system in certain Member States.

Key Findings

Length of Judicial Proceedings: How long do cases typically take to resolve in the different Member States?

Justice delayed is justice denied. Timely decisions are essential for businesses and investors. The data shows that least one third of Member States have a length of proceedings at least two times higher than the majority of Member States.

Figure 2: Time needed to resolve litigious civil and commercial cases* (in days) (source: CEPEJ study)

Some Member States may experience difficulties in their capacity to resolve particular categories of cases. When the clearance rate is about 100% or higher it means the judicial systems is able to resolve at least as many cases as come in. When the clearance rate is below 100%, it means that the courts are resolving fewer cases than the number of incoming cases, and as a result, at the end of the year, the number of unresolved cases adds up as pending cases. If this situation persists over several years, this could be indicative of a more systemic problem as backlogs build up which further aggravate the workload of courts, and which cause the length of proceedings to rise further.

Figure 6: Rate of resolving litigious civil and commercial cases (in %) (source: CEPEJ study)

ICT systems: To what extent do Member States use electronic systems to manage cases?

ICT systems for communication between courts and parties (e.g. electronic submission of claims) can help reduce delays and costs for citizens and businesses by facilitating access to justice. The figures portray a large disparity between Member States in the development of ICT systems for information exchange between courts and the parties.

Figure 14: Electronic communication between courts and parties (weighted indicator -min=0, max=4) (source: CEPEJ study)

Resources: How do resources available to courts vary?

To ensure the quality, independence and efficiency of a national justice system, adequate financial and human resources are needed, taking into account the different legal traditions. The figures show different approaches regarding the financial and human resources in justice systems, including among the Member States with similar lengths of proceedings.

Figure 20: Budget for courts* (in EUR per inhabitant) (source: CEPEJ study)

Figure 21: Number of judges* (per 100.000 inhabitants) (source: CEPEJ study)

Figure 22: Number of lawyers* (per 100.000 inhabitants) (source: CEPEJ study)

Training: To what extent do Member States provide for continuous training of legal practionners?

Initial and continuous training is important for maintaining or increasing the knowledge and the skills of justice personnel. Training is particularly important considering the continuous development of national and EU legislation, the increased pressure to meet the expectations of end-users and the trend towards the professional management within the judiciary. The figures show that policies on compulsory continuous training for judges are very diverse among the Member States.

Figure 19: Compulsory training for judges (source: 2012 CEPEJ Report)

Judicial Independence: How do perceptions of judicial independence vary?

As a general rule, justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done. As the independence of the judiciary assures the predictability, certainty, fairness and stability of the legal system in which businesses operate, a perceived lack of independence can deter investments. The World Economic Forum (WEF) in its annual Global Competitiveness Report provides a ‘perceived independence index’ which is relevant in the context of the economic growth as it is based on a survey answered by a representative sample of firms in all countries and representing the main sectors of the economy (agriculture, manufacturing industry, non-manufacturing industry, and services).

The World Justice Project (WJP) in the context of its 2012-2013 Rule of Law Index Report developed an indicator on the 'perceived independence of the civil justice', based on replies from a general population poll and qualified respondents. It should also be noted that the Court of Justice of the European Union and the European Court of Human Rights in examining the independence of the judiciary have underlined the importance of the appearance of judicial independence. According to the case law of these courts, the independence of the judiciary requires detailed rules in order to dismiss any reasonable doubt in the minds of individuals as to the imperviousness of that body to external factors and its neutrality with respect to the interests before it.

Figure 23: Judicial independence (perception – higher value means better perception)
(source: World Economic Forum)

Figure 24: Independence of civil justice (perception – higher value means better perception)
(source: World Justice Project)


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