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European Commission - Fact Sheet

The 2016 EU Justice Scoreboard: Questions & Answers

Brussels, 11 April 2016

Questions and Answers on the 2016 EU Justice Scoreboard

What is the EU Justice Scoreboard?

The EU Justice Scoreboard is an information tool aiming at assisting the EU and Member States to achieve more effective justice by providing objective, reliable and comparable data on the quality, independence and efficiency of justice systems in all Member States.

The Scoreboard contributes to identifying potential shortcomings, improvements and good practices. It shows trends in the functioning of national justice systems over time. It does not present an overall single ranking but an overview of how all the justice systems function, based on various indicators that are of common interest for all Member States.

The Scoreboard does not promote any particular type of justice system and treats all Member States on an equal footing. 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 an effective justice system.

Why are national justice systems important for the EU?

Effective justice systems play a crucial role for upholding the rule of law and the Union's fundamental values. They are also a prerequisite for an investment and business friendly environment. This is why improving the effectiveness of national justice systems is one of the priorities of the European Semester – the EU's annual cycle of economic policy coordination. The EU Justice Scoreboard helps Member States to achieve this priority.

What are the main novelties of this fourth edition?

The 2016 Justice Scoreboard further develops a comprehensive overview of the functioning of national justice systems: new quality indicators have been introduced, for example on user surveys in Member States, the availability of legal aid and the existence of quality standards; indicators on independence have been enriched, including with new Eurobarometer surveys on the perception of independence of courts and judges among the general public and companies; a deeper insight into certain areas such as electronic communication is provided. Finally, more Member States have participated in the collection of data.

What are the main findings of this fourth edition?

  • Most Member States are actively seeking to improve their justice systems. Measures range from significant reforms of procedural laws to scaling up the use of ICT in the justice system and to further promote the use of Alternative Methods of Dispute Resolution.
  • Shorter duration of litigious civil and commercial cases. In addition, even if there is overall stability on pending cases, improvement can be observed in several Member States that faced particular challenges with a high number of pending cases.
  • Better accessibility of justice systems, in particular in matters like electronic submission of small claims or promotion of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) methods. However, there is still room for improvement in online availability of judgements or electronic communication between courts and parties.
  • Further efforts are still needed to improve the training in judicial skills and the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) for case management systems.
  • Most Member States have standards covering similar aspects of their justice systems, but there are significant differences as regards their content and implementation. For example, less than half of Member States have standards on measures to reduce existing backlogs and even fewer define the maximum age that pending cases should have.
  • The Scoreboard presents the results of different surveys on the perception of judicial independence which converge in highlighting that the same Member States are facing particular challenges. Among the reasons given for the perceived lack of independence, the interference or pressure from government and politicians, and from economic or other specific interests are particularly notable for several Member States where perceived independence is very low.

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.

The 2016 Annual Growth Survey underlined that "enhancing the quality, independence and efficiency of Member States' justice systems is a prerequisite for an investment and business friendly environment. […] It is necessary to ensure swift proceedings, address the court backlogs, increase safeguards for judicial independence and improve the quality of the judiciary, including through better use of ICT in courts and use of quality standards."

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

The Scoreboard provides information on the functioning of justice systems and helps assess the impact of justice reforms. If the Scoreboard reveals poor performance, this always requires a deeper analysis of the reasons why. This country-specific assessment is carried out in the context of the European Semester process through bilateral dialogue with the authorities and stakeholders concerned. This assessment takes into account the particularities of the legal system and the context of the concerned Member States. It may eventually lead the Commission to propose to the Council to adopt Country-Specific Recommendations on the improvement of national justice systems.

How can effective justice systems support growth?

Effective justice systems play a key role in establishing confidence throughout the business cycle. Where judicial systems guarantee the enforcement of rights, creditors are more likely to lend, firms are dissuaded from opportunistic behaviour, transaction costs are reduced and innovative businesses which often rely on intangible assets (e.g. intellectual property rights) are more likely to invest. The positive impact of national justice systems on the economy is underlined in literature and research, including from the European Central Bank, International Monetary Fund, OECD, World Economic Forum and World Bank.  

What does the 2016 EU Justice Scoreboard measure?

The Scoreboard uses indicators examining the three main parameters of an effective justice system: efficiency, quality and independence.

The indicators related to the efficiency of proceedings include the length of judicial proceedings (disposition time); the clearance rate (the ratio of the number of resolved cases over the number of incoming cases); and the number of pending cases.

Easy access to justice, adequate resources, effective assessment tools and appropriate standards are key factors that contribute to the quality of justice systems. The Scoreboard uses various indicators covering these factors for example, indicators on electronic submission of claims, communication between the courts and parties, training of judges, financial resources, ICT case management systems and standards.

As regards judicial independence, the Scoreboard examines the perception of independence among the general public and companies and presents information on legal safeguards in Member States for certain situations where judicial independence could be at risk.

What is the methodology of the EU Justice Scoreboard?

The Scoreboard uses various sources of information. Large parts of the quantitative data are provided by the Council of Europe Commission for the Evaluation of the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ) with which the Commission has concluded a contract to carry out a specific annual study. These data range from 2010 to 2014, and have been provided by Member States according to CEPEJ's methodology. The study also provides detailed comments and country-specific information sheets that give more contextual information and should be read together with the figures.

The other sources of data are the group of contact persons on national justice systems, the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary (ENCJ), the Network of the Presidents of the Supreme Judicial Courts of the EU, Association of the Councils of State and Supreme Administrative Jurisdictions of the EU (ACA), the European Competition Network, the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE), the Communications Committee, the European Observatory on infringements of intellectual property rights, the Consumer Protection Cooperation Network, Eurostat, the European Judicial Training Network (EJTN), the World Bank and the World Economic Forum. The methodology for the 2016 Scoreboard has been enhanced by involving more closely the group of contact persons on national justice systems.

Why is some data missing?

More Member States have participated in the collection of data for the 2016 Justice Scoreboard, but gathering data on the key elements of justice systems covering all Member States remains a challenge. This may be for different reasons, including lack of availability of data due to insufficient statistical capacity.

What is the relation between the EU Justice Scoreboard and the Commission EU Rule of Law Framework adopted in 2014?

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

The EU Justice Scoreboard provides yearly 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.

The EU Rule of Law Framework (IP/14/237) allows the Commission to enter into a political dialogue with the Member State concerned to prevent that an emerging systemic threat to the rule of law further escalates.

What are the next steps?

The findings of the 2016 Scoreboard are being taken into account for the ongoing country-specific assessment carried out in the context of the 2016 European Semester process. The country reports for 26 Member States were published on 26 February 2016 and include findings on the justice systems of a number Member States (BE, BG, HR, ES, HU, IE, IT, LV, MT, PL, PT, RO, SI and SK) (see for latest reports on the 2016 European Semester, IP-16-332 and MEMO-16-334).

The Commission will encourage Member States to take into account the findings of the Scoreboard when using the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) to support their justice reforms.

The Commission will continue to encourage the judicial networks to deepen their assessment of the effectiveness of legal safeguards aimed at protecting judicial independence.

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

No, the EU Justice Scoreboard and the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) pursue different objectives and have different scopes.

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 in the case of Bulgaria also against 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. Its focus is on civil, commercial and administrative justice. 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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