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Vice-President of the European Commission, EU Commissioner for Justice
The 2014 EU Justice Scoreboard
Brussels, 17 March 2014
1. Effective Justice Systems and Economic Growth
Justice policy is also economic growth policy.
Several studies – such as from the World Bank ‑ confirm that the legal system plays a key role in attracting foreign direct investments.
Member States agree: they have unanimously decided, in 2012, 2013 and 2014, that one of the headings within the Annual Growth Survey – which sets, at European level, the priorities for economic reforms in the Member States – must be the "modernisation of public administrations".
We saw that countries which were, and still are, under Economic Adjustment Programmes had to work hard to deliver judicial reforms: reducing the backlog of pending cases; establishing a land registry so that taxes can be collected; introducing ICT communication for courts to cut costs and making insolvency regimes more business friendly.
The European Commission has been assisting in these reforms. Our experts regularly travel to the countries concerned – for example to Greece and Portugal recently. You may now ask: why Commission experts?
For two reasons:
First, because we have learned from experience. While the Troika and the IMF might have all the technical expertise to determine which are the measures best for a country's budget, they do not necessarily have the expertise to say which are the measures best for a country's justice system. I remember the growing concerns of practitioners about the independence of the legal profession in a number of European countries. It was indeed a disturbing trend when, in the wake of the economic crisis, the IMF, in 2011, asked Ireland to propose radical reforms to the organisation of the legal profession. The representation of the legal profession was to be abolished and replaced by a "Legal Regulator" appointed by and integrated into the Irish Ministry for Justice, Equality and Defense. Certainly a cost-saving measure but let's be clear: measures to achieve fiscal consolidation cannot come at the price of undermining the independence of the judiciary and the independence of the legal profession. Pure economic reasoning must not be the guiding principle when it comes to judicial reforms.
Second reason: The Commission has not only the necessary sensitivity but also the necessary knowledge. I mentioned that our experts are working with the Member States on the ground. And in addition, we have – since last year – the EU Justice Scoreboard the findings of which I will present to you in a minute.
2. The EU Justice Scoreboard – an information tool to identify trends
Let me briefly recall what it is: The EU Justice Scoreboard is an information tool that presents objective, reliable and comparable data on the justice systems in the Member States. We launched it last year. It is part of the European Semester – the process through which Member States coordinate their economic reforms. It enables the Commission to detect trends relating to the functioning of national justice systems; to see what is working well and where improvements are needed to drive economic growth.
If necessary, the Commission, on the basis of the data of the Justice Scoreboard, can address country specific recommendations to the countries concerned. 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 (BG, ES, HU, IT, LV, MT, PL, RO, SI, SK). The findings of this year's Scoreboard will be used to prepare the upcoming country specific analyses.
The aim is always to promote the quality, independence and efficiency of justice systems in the European Union.
The Justice Scoreboard is the information tool that allows us to achieve this goal. It is not a ranking system or a beauty contest of the best legal systems.
In Europe we have rich and varied legal traditions that need to be safeguarded. But whatever the model of the national justice system, timeliness, independence, affordability, and easy access are essential elements of an effective justice system. All have a key impact in making a country an attractive location for investment.
Therefore, the EU Justice Scoreboard looks at the following three main indicators in the civil, commercial and administrative law area:
The efficiency of justice systems: indicators include the length of proceedings, the clearance rate (the rate of resolving cases) and the number of pending cases;
Quality: including the training of judges, whether monitoring and evaluations of court activities are available, the budget and human resources allocated to courts and the availability of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and alternative dispute resolution methods (ADR);
Independence: the Scoreboard presents data on the perceived independence of the justice system. This year's edition for the first time also provides a general comparative overview of how national justice systems are organised to protect judicial independence where it may be at risk. It looks at legal safeguards against, for example, the transfer or dismissal of judges.
3. The main Findings of the 2014 EU Justice Scoreboard
Now let me briefly run through the main findings of the 2014 EU Justice Scoreboard. I will not be able to go into too much detail but you will have the possibility to follow a technical briefing after this press conference.
Let me start with efficiency. Justice delayed is justice denied. As last year, one of the main challenges for Member States remains reducing the time for first instance proceedings and reducing the large number of pending cases. One third of Member States have a length of proceedings at least twice as long as the majority of Member States.
Figure 1: Time needed to resolve litigious civil and commercial cases* (1st instance/in days)
Low rates of resolving cases lead to an increasing number of pending cases - this means that outstanding cases stack up and the courts are then faced with a growing backlog.
Figure 2: Rate of resolving litigious civil and commercial cases (1st instance/in %)
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.
But the Commission is not looking for the most speedy justice system. "Quality before speed" is something that I normally hear from Ministers in the Council when they want to delay Commission proposals… But in this case the principle really applies! That is why we are looking at indicators that tell us something about the quality of the justice systems.
The availability of information and communication technology (ICT) tools for courts has increased, but there is still room for improvement, in particular to facilitate contact between courts and citizens. Alternative dispute resolution mechanisms are now available in nearly all Member States, while monitoring and evaluation of court activities exist in most Member States.
This year we also looked at a new element: the training of judges which is an important indicator for the quality of judicial decisions. Learning about the judicial system of other Member States fosters mutual trust in our European area of justice. Learning about EU law ensures that every national judge can also act as a real 'Union judge' applying EU law in your country. The Scoreboard finds that in almost a third of Member States, over 50% of judges take part in continuous training activities on EU law. This is a good start and we will build on this. EU funds are available.
Figure 3: 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.
And finally, we are looking at the independence of the judiciary. Because justice must not only be done; it must also be seen to be done. This year's Scoreboard has found that while in several Member States the perception of independence has improved, in some others Member States it has deteriorated.
Figure 4: 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. This year's Scoreboard has for the first time sketched out a first comparative picture of the legal safeguards available at national level to guarantee judicial independence and we aim to develop this further into a more comprehensive analysis in the years to come.
Let me make clear that these data are not linked to the new EU rule of law mechanism that the Commission presented last week.
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. Whereas, the rule of law framework we created is there for dealing with systemic threats to the rule of law. We are talking about a systemic breakdown which affects the integrity, stability and proper functioning of the institutions and mechanisms established at national level to secure the rule of law.
4. Conclusion: EU countries are increasingly interdependent, and so too are their justice systems
To conclude, let me sum up today’s findings. They show how important it is for Member States to press on with their reforms to make sure that justice systems in Europe serve our citizens and businesses. And to make sure that we continue to create the best climate possible for growth and jobs in our economy.
In many of these areas, reforms will take some time to bear fruit. This is a long-distance run and not a sprint. We do not expect to see a revolution overnight. That is why you will not yet be able to track in this year's edition the results of ambitious reforms that happened last year in some countries. I am thinking of Portugal for example.
The EU Justice Scoreboard is not a name and shame exercise but it is an encouragement. An encouragement for every Member State to work on a more efficient, more independent and better justice system than it has today. This is not a process of pointing fingers at each other, but a process of learning from each other.
Our economies increasingly depend on each other. That is why Member States coordinate their economic policies. Member States' justice systems are also becoming more interdependent. Citizens and companies move and live across borders more and more, where they have recourse to the justice systems of other Member States. Every national court is a Union court and thus justice policies are no longer simply 'national business'.
The EU Justice Scoreboard helps to detect; it helps to correct; and it helps to connect.