On 13th October, The Council adopted conclusions on seizing the opportunities of digitalisation for access to justice (see press release here). In summary, the conclusions recognise that digital transformation continues to profoundly change people’s lives and that judicial systems, as a central pillar of the rule of law, must align with these evolving demands. It sets out that the use of digital solutions can help to better structure proceedings and automate and accelerate the handling of standardised tasks to increase efficiency of court proceedings. The need to invest in digital capabilities has become particularly profound in light of the COVID crisis.

The conclusions encourage the cooperation of all stakeholders, including the Commission, all Member States, European Parliament and legal practitioners, in a common, constructive and sustainable effort to continuously advance the digitalisation of justice systems.

The key themes of the conclusions are sustainability of e-CODEX, development of artificial intelligence tools, digital literacy, the promotion of digital skills and funding.

The Council calls on the Commission to develop a comprehensive strategy towards digitalisation by the end of 2020, ensuring appropriate funding to support the initiative. The conclusions stress that the employment of digital technologies should not undermine the fundamental rights and that traditional non-digital processes should be retained so as to provide citizen who cannot fully participate in technological developments are still able to access justice and legal protections.

The Commission are invited to present a legislative proposal, ensuring the sustainability of e-CODEX with an adequate governance and management structure compatible with eu-LISA that respects the independence of the judiciary and the constitutional requirements of the Member States and ensures adequate representation of the EU and Member States’ judiciary, as well as the key stakeholders.

The conclusions emphasise the necessity of digital literacy of citizens and practitioners and calls on the Commission to promote digital skills by promoting training opportunities to judicial justice practitioners.

The Council notes that cooperation with Member States is needed in designing a future framework for artificial intelligence tools and calls on the Commission to assess the potential benefits, risks and requirements specific to the justice system. It underlines that any use of artificial intelligence tools must not interfere with the decision-making power of the judiciary or infringe an individual’s fundamental rights.

The Commission, on 2 December 2020 is expected, by way of a Communication, to outline the their approach to digitalisation and increasing cross-border judicial cooperation, provide mechanisms for a quicker transition to a digitalised system and propose some solutions to help systems cope with the COVID-19 crisis.