On 8 July, the Commission published its 2021 EU Justice Scoreboard which is an annual overview of the functioning of the justice systems in all EU Member States.
To this end, the scoreboard focuses on three areas:
- efficiency where it looks at indicators such as length of proceedings, clearance rate and number of pending cases;
- quality which analyses accessibility, such as legal aid and court fees, training, budget, human resources and digitisation; and
- independence in such areas as perceived judicial independence among the general public and companies, safeguards relating to judges and safeguards relating to the functioning of national prosecution services.
For the first time, this year’s edition includes a dedicated section on digitisation of justice. The report acknowledges that the COVID-19 pandemic has created new challenges and accelerated the digitisation efforts in all member states. Despite this acceleration, however, the Commission concludes that there is still room for improvement.
The report shows continuous improvement in the effectiveness of the justice systems across the EU in large majority of the member states. While the report does not allow to capture the full impact of the pandemic, some of the data show that most of the member states have digital tools at their disposal.
The highlights of the report include:
- almost all member states provide access to online information on their judicial system (which includes a centralised web portal with online forms and education materials on citizens’ legal rights). However, there are differences in the content of the information and how relevant it is for those who access it. For example, the report mentions that only 12 member states ensure the availability of online assessment for legal aid. However, a website with online forms for the public and companies or information for non-native speakers are available in the majority of member states;
- less than half of the member states’ procedural rules are digital-ready, that is which would allow for distance communication or for receiving the evidence is a digital format only. In the remaining member states such possibilities are available in limited situations;
- the majority of member states already use digital tools for the use by courts, prosecutors and their staff. Also, most member states have put in place case management systems, videoconferencing systems and possibility for teleworking. However, it is still necessary to make further progress in introducing wider use of such tools as the automatic case allocation systems, artificial intelligence and blockchain-based tools;
- courts in most member states can communicate electronically in a secure way; however, this situation varies as in some member states courts can do so with only certain legal professionals and / or public authorities. This changes even further in the case of prosecution services where less than one third of member states provide for secure electronic communication with legal professionals and national institutions;
- in civil, commercial and administrative cases, most member states provide citizens and businesses (or their legal representatives) with the opportunity to access their ongoing or closed cases online (to varying degrees from country to country). However, this changes in criminal cases: in most member states defendants and victims have very limited possibilities to follow or carry out part of their case using digital solutions. In some member states this is not possible at all;
- the publication of civil, commercial and administrative judgments has not changed compared to previous years, especially with regard to the highest instance. 17 Member States publish all civil/commercial and administrative judgments and 15 Member States also publish criminal judgments at the highest instance. There has been no progress at second instance courts either. In 2020, only 9 Member States published all civil/commercial and administrative judgments of second instance courts online and 6 Member States did so for second instance criminal judgments, which is fewer than in 2019;
- the scoreboard continues to monitor the arrangements that are put in place by member states to make sure that judicial decisions are machine-readable (by, for example, developing metadata such as key words, dates, etc.). The report shows that all member states have some arrangements for civil/commercial, administrative and criminal cases; however, there are significant differences among them. Of all areas of law, the progress seems the most pronounced in administrative law.