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European Commission

MEMO

Brussels, 17 March 2014

The 2014 EU Justice Scoreboard: ­ Questions & Answers

What is the EU Justice Scoreboard?

The EU Justice Scoreboard is an information tool that contributes to the European Semester process by providing objective data on the quality, independence and efficiency of justice systems in all Member States. The aim of the EU Justice Scoreboard is to assist Member States, as part of an open dialogue, in improving the functioning of their justice systems.

The Justice Scoreboard contributes to identifying potential shortcomings and good practices and aims to present trends on the functioning of the national justice systems over time. While the Scoreboard presents comparative information on Member States’ justice systems based on a number of particular indicators, it is not intended to present an overall single ranking, or to promote any particular form of justice system.

Whatever the model of the national justice system or the legal tradition in which it is anchored, timeliness, independence, affordability, and user-friendly access are some of the essential parameters of what constitutes an effective justice system.

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.

Since 2011, national judicial reforms have been an integral part of Economic Adjustment Programmes. In 2014, Greece, Poland and Cyprus are subject to Economic Adjustment Programmes which include justice reforms.

Since 2012, the effectiveness of national justice systems has been a key component of the European Semester exercise. The Annual Growth Survey 2014 highlights the importance of improving the quality, independence and efficiency of national judicial systems. In 2012 six Member States received country-specific recommendations in the area of justice (BG, IT, LV, PL, SI, SK), while in 2013 country-specific recommendations were made to ten countries in the area of justice (BG, ES, HU, IT, LV, MT, PL, RO, SI, SK).

What does the EU Justice Scoreboard measure?

The 2014 EU Justice Scoreboard presents indicators related to the efficiency, quality and independence of justice systems. To a large extent, indicators remain the same as in the previous edition, so that their evolution can be followed.

The length of proceedings (disposition time), clearance rate (the rate of resolving cases), and the number of pending cases remain the main indicators for efficiency of the justice system. In addition, the 2014 Scoreboard presents the outcome of two pilot studies aimed at providing more fine-tuned data on the length of judicial proceedings relating to competition law and consumer law.

As in the previous edition, the 2014 Scoreboard also examines indicators which help to improve the quality of justice, notably looking at the training of judges, monitoring and evaluation of court activities, budgets and human resources allocated to courts, the availability of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) systems and of alternative dispute resolution methods.

The scoreboard also presents findings based on indicators relating to the perceived independence of the justice system. Perception of independence is important, as it can influence business investment decisions but what is more important is that judicial independence is effectively protected. The 2014 Scoreboard presents for the first time an initial comparative overview on the legal safeguards for the protection of structural independence of the judiciary in the judicial systems of Member States.

To assist Member States in their efforts to improve business climate and overcome the sovereign debt and financial crisis, the 2014 Scoreboard focuses on litigious civil and commercial cases as well as on administrative cases.

How does the EU Justice Scoreboard contribute to the European Semester?

Poor performance revealed by the Scoreboard indicators always requires a deeper analysis of the reasons behind the result. This country-specific assessment is carried out in the context of the European Semester process through bilateral dialogue with national authorities and stakeholders. It takes into account the particularities of the legal system and the context of the concerned Member State. It may eventually lead the Commission to propose country-specific recommendations on the need to improve justice systems.

What is the methodology of the EU Justice Scoreboard?

The Scoreboard uses different sources of information. Most of the quantitative data is currently provided by the Council of Europe Commission for the Evaluation of the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ). The data is from 2012 and has been provided by Member States according to the CEPEJ methodology.

For the 2014 EU Justice Scoreboard, the Commission also used data from other sources, including Eurostat, the World Bank, the World Economic Forum and has collected data in cooperation with the European judicial networks, in particular the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary. Information on the application of consumer and competition law rules by national courts has been obtained through two pilot studies.

Why is some data missing?

The experience with the 2014 EU Justice Scoreboard confirms that the gathering of objective, reliable and comparable data on the effectiveness of justice systems covering all Member States remains a challenge. This may be for different reasons: lack of availability of data due to insufficient statistical capacity, or unwillingness to cooperate fully with CEPEJ. In view of the importance of well-functioning national justice systems in achieving the objectives of the Union, the Commission calls on all Member States to address as a priority the collection of sound, reliable and objective data and to make it available.

The Commission will address the data gap by examining ways to improve data collection together with the expert group on national justice systems established by the Commission and in cooperation with the European networks in the area of justice.

Why are national justice systems important for the EU?

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 under 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, the EU's Justice area and, more generally, the whole EU legal system, which is based on mutual trust.

How will the EU Scoreboard be used, concretely? What's next?

The findings of the 2014 Scoreboard highlight the priority areas that need to be tackled by Member States. The European Commission will translate these priorities into the following actions:

  • The issues identified in the Scoreboard will be taken into account when preparing the forthcoming country specific analyses of the 2014 European Semester. They will also guide the work in the context of the Economic Adjustment Programmes.

  • EU Regional Development and Social Funds can be used to support reforms of national judicial systems. For example, Estonia has used structural funds to develop e-justice tools and is now one of the most advanced countries in the use of ICT tools for the management of courts and for communication between courts and parties. The Commission identified justice as a priority area for twelve Member States for funding in the context of the multi-annual financial framework 2014-2020 (BG, CZ, EL, HR, IT, LV, LT, HU, PL, RO, SI and SK).

  • The Commission will work with experts from the judiciary and the Member States, as well as with legal practitioners and European justice networks, in particular the European Network of Councils for the judiciary, the networks of presidents of the Supreme Judicial Court of the European Union, the Association of the Councils of State and Supreme Administrative Jurisdictions to improve the quality and availability and comparability of data for future exercises.

What are the main findings of this second edition?

The key findings of the 2014 Scoreboard highlight the three priority areas that need to be addressed:

1. Efficiency of justice systems:

Justice delayed is justice denied. Timely decisions are essential for citizens, businesses and investors. In their investment decisions, companies take into account the risk of being involved in commercial disputes, labour or taxation disputes or insolvencies.

The 2014 Justice Scoreboard shows that there are Member States that continue to face particular challenges with regard to the efficiency of their justice system. For example, a combination of unfavourable factors like lengthy first instance proceedings coupled with low clearance rates or a large number of pending cases can be observed in some Member 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 do. 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 further rise.

Developments and data confirm the importance of continuing to pursue with commitment and determination the efforts made to improve the effectiveness of justice systems throughout the EU. While ambitious reforms have been recently adopted in certain Member States (for example in Portugal), their effects cannot yet be reflected in the Scoreboard as data is from 2012. Implementing and reaping the benefits of justice reforms takes time. As the Scoreboard is a regular exercise, the outcome of these reforms could become visible in future Scoreboards.

Figure 1: Time needed to resolve litigious civil and commercial cases* (1st instance/in days) (source: CEPEJ study)

*Litigious civil (and commercial) cases concern disputes between parties, for example disputes regarding contracts, following the CEPEJ methodology. The length of proceedings expresses the time (in days) needed to resolve a case in court, that is the time taken by the court to reach a decision at first instance. The 'disposition time' indicator is the number of unresolved cases divided by the number of resolved cases at the end of a year multiplied by 365 days.

Figure 2: Rate of resolving litigious civil and commercial cases (1st instance/in %) (source: CEPEJ study)

The clearance rate is the ratio of the number of resolved cases over the number of incoming cases. It measures whether a court is keeping up with its incoming caseload. The length of proceedings is linked to the rate at which the courts can resolve cases, the 'clearance rate', and to the number of cases that are still waiting to be resolved, 'pending cases'. When the clearance rate is about 100% or higher it means the judicial system 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 3: Number of litigious civil and commercial pending cases (1st instance/per 100 inhabitants) (source: CEPEJ study)

The number of pending cases expresses the number of cases that remains to be dealt with at the end of a period. The number of pending cases influences the disposition time. Therefore, in order to improve the length of proceedings measures to reduce the number of pending cases are required.

2. Quality of justice systems

The Scoreboard shows that monitoring and evaluation of court activities already exist in most Member States ­ only a few countries have no evaluation systems in place.

Figure 4: Availability of monitoring of courts' activities in 2012* (source: CEPEJ study)

*Availability of monitoring tools has been reported as increasing in CY, EL (annual activity reports) and SI (other monitoring elements) and decreasing in SK (no annual activity report, as individual courts are required to send statistical data to the Ministry of Justice that publishes data for the whole judiciary).

Figure 5: Availability of evaluation of courts' activities in 2012* (source: CEPEJ Study)

*Availability of these tools has been reported to have increased in EE, HU and SI and decreased in LV.

The availability of information and communication technology (ICT) tools for courts increased. They are largely available for the administration and management of courts and to a lesser extent for electronic communications between courts and parties.

Figure 6: ICT Systems for the registration and management of cases (weighted indicator-min=0, max=4) (source: CEPEJ study)

Figure 7: Electronic communication between courts and parties (weighted indicator -min=0, max=4) (source: CEPEJ study)

Alternative dispute resolution methods are available in nearly all Member States. Updated data on the actual use of such methods are not available.

Figure 8: Availability of alternative dispute resolution methods in 2012* (source: CEPEJ study)

*Almost no changes have been reported on the availability of ADR which appeared to increase in CY and decrease in LV, that is in the early stage of establishing a new legal basis for mediation and a mediation institute.

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. In nearly a third of Member States the participation rate of judges in continuous training activities on EU law is above 50%. For half of the Member States it represents less than 20%.

Figure 9: Judges participating in continuous training activities in EU Law or in the law of another Member State (as a % of total number or judges )* (source: European Commission, European Judicial Training, 2012)

*In a few cases reported by the Member States the ratio of participants to existing members of a legal profession exceeds 100%, meaning that participants took part in more than one training activity on EU law. Some of the exceptionally high figures may suggest that, the data delivered concerns training in all subjects and not just in EU law.

Training of judges and legal practitioners and ICT tools are crucial for the effective functioning of a European area of justice based on mutual trust. The findings of the Justice Scoreboard confirm that they should be key components of the future EU Justice Agenda (see IP/14/233).

3. Independence of justice systems

Judicial independence is important for an attractive business environment. It assures the predictability, certainty, fairness and stability of the legal system in which businesses operate.

Perception of the independence of national justice systems varies widely in the EU. 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. In comparison to previous years in several Member States the perception of independence has improved whilst in some Member States it has deteriorated.

Figure 10: Perceived judicial independence (higher value means better perception) (source: World Economic Forum [WEF])

The WEF indicator is based on survey answers to the question: "To what extent is the judiciary in your country independent from the influences of members of government, citizens, or firms?" The survey was replied to by a representative sample of firms in all countries representing the main sectors of the economy (agriculture, manufacturing industry, non- manufacturing industry, and services).

While perceived independence is a relevant indicator, information on how judicial independence is legally guaranteed and upheld is necessary. In cooperation with the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary (ENCJ), the Commission has started to collect information on the legal protection of judicial independence in Member States. The 2014 EU Justice Scoreboard presents a first comparative overview on how justice systems are organised to protect judicial independence in certain types of situations where their independence can be at risk.

Five indicators are used to cover the following situations: (i) the safeguards regarding the transfer of judges without their consent, (ii) the dismissal of judges, (iii) the allocation of incoming cases within a court, (iv) the withdrawal and recusal of judges and (v) the threat against the independence of a judge.

The Commission will further examine with the networks of judicial authorities and judges, as well as with the Member States, how the Scoreboard could further develop this comparative data on the effectiveness of the legal safeguards and on other safeguards relating to the structural independence.

Figure 11: The dismissal of 1st and 2nd instance judges

This figure presents the authorities that have the power to propose and decide on the dismissal of judges of first and second instance in the different Member States. The upper part of the column indicates who takes the final decision and the lower part shows – where relevant- who proposes dismissal or who must be consulted before a decision is taken.

Figure 12: The allocation of cases within a court

The figure presents at what level the criteria for distributing cases within a court are defined (e.g. law, well-established practice), how cases are allocated (e.g. by court president, by court staff, random allocation, pre-defined order) and which authority supervises the allocation.

What is the relation between the EU Justice Scoreboard and the new EU Rule of Law Mechanism?

These two tools are separate from each other as they serve different purposes.

The EU 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.

The new EU Rule of Law Mechanism (IP/14/237) establishes an early warning tool allowing the Commission to enter into a dialogue with the Member State concerned to prevent the escalation of systemic threats to the rule of law. It is a mechanism that can be activated and used in situations where there is a systemic breakdown which adversely affects the integrity, stability and proper functioning of the institutions and mechanisms established at national level to secure the rule of law.

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, as well as the fight against corruption and organised crime. 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.


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