Today, the European Commission published the 2020 EU Justice Scoreboard, which gives a comparative overview of the efficiency, quality and independence of the justice systems in EU Member States. This year's is the eighth edition of the Justice Scoreboard.
What is the EU Justice Scoreboard?
The EU Justice Scoreboard is one of the tools in the EU's Rule of Law toolbox used by the Commission to monitor justice reforms undertaken by Member States. It is a comparative information tool that aims to assist the EU and Member States to improve the effectiveness of national justice systems. It does this by providing data on the efficiency, quality and independence of the justice systems in all Member States.
The Scoreboard contributes to identifying good practices, improvements and potential shortcomings. 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. This is based on various indicators that are of common interest to all Member States.
The Scoreboard does not promote any particular type of justice system and puts 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 features of an effective justice system.
Why are national justice systems important for the EU?
Effective justice systems are essential for implementing EU law and for upholding the rule of law and the EU's fundamental values. National courts act as EU courts when applying EU law. It is national courts in the first place that ensure that the rights and obligations provided under EU law are enforced effectively (Article 19 TEU).
Effective justice systems are also essential for mutual trust, the investment climate and the sustainability of long-term growth. Where judicial systems guarantee the enforcement of rights, creditors are more likely to lend, businesses are dissuaded from opportunistic behaviour, transaction costs are reduced and innovative businesses are more likely to invest. 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 is the relation between the EU Justice Scoreboard and the EU rule of law report?
The EU Justice Scoreboard is part of the rule of law toolbox that the EU has been building up to help uphold the rule of law. It presents an annual overview of indicators focusing on the efficiency, quality and independence of justice, the essential parameters of effective justice systems. The EU Justice Scoreboard will feed into the first annual EU Rule of Law Report, one of the major initiatives of the Commission for 2020 and a political priority of President von der Leyen. The Justice Scoreboard and the Rule of Law Report complement each other. Whilst the former presents a comparative overview of the justices systems, the Rule of Law Report will provide a country-specific synthesis of significant developments in Member States.
More generally, the EU's rule of law toolbox consists of a wide range of tools to carefully monitor, assess, and respond to the rule of law issues in Member States, among other infringement procedures, the European Semester, the EU Justice Scoreboard, the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), the Rule of Law Framework, the procedure of Article 7 TEU and the new comprehensive Rule of Law Mechanism, which includes the annual Rule of Law Report.
What are the main novelties in the eighth edition of the EU Justice Scoreboard?
The 2020 edition develops further certain aspects of the functioning of justice systems:
-Court fees and recoverability of legal fees: new indicators on the level of court fees and recoverability of legal costs in a commercial case;
-Machine-readability of judgments: an expanded overview of the arrangements for online publication of judgments, now including the arrangements required for an algorithm-friendly justice system;
-Child-friendly justice systems: a consolidated overview of different arrangements for a child-friendly justice system, such as child-friendly websites, accommodations for child-friendly hearings and trainings for judges;
-Judicial independence: updated overviews concerning disciplinary proceedings.
The Scoreboard also presents:
-How citizens and companies perceive the independence of judges compared to previous years (see 2020 Eurobarometer survey on 'Perceived independence of the national justice systems in the EU among the general public' and 2020 Eurobarometer survey on 'Perceived independence of the national justice systems in the EU among companies');
-How legal aid and court fees affect access to justice;
-Efficiency of justice systems in specific areas of EU law: competition, electronic communications, EU trademark, consumer law and anti-money laundering.
What are the main findings of the 2020 EU Justice Scoreboard?
-Positive trend on efficiency continues: data on efficiency spanning over seven years (2012-2018) shows that positive developments can be observed in most of the Member States identified in the context of the European Semester as facing specific challenges.
-Examples regarding specific areas of EU law:
o For cases in the area of EU consumer law, in seven Member States national authorities took on average less than 3 months to issue a decision, while in nine Member States they took more than 6 months.
o Caseload in the area of competition and electronic communication is slightly increasing:The overall caseload of competition cases faced by courts across Member States increased slightly, while the length of judicial review decreased or remained stable in six Member States. Similarly, the caseloads in the area of electronic communicationscontinued to increase, ending the positive trend in terms of reduced length of proceedings observed in previous years.
-Persistent challenges regarding the perception of judicial independence: In two-thirds of Member States, the perception of judicial independence by the general public has improved, as compared to 2016. However, compared to last year, the public's perception of independence has decreased in about two-fifths of all Member States and in about half of the Member States facing specific challenges. The interference or pressure from government and politicians was the most stated reason for the perceived lack of independence of courts and judges, followed by the pressure from economic or other specific interests.
-Member States are starting to put in place arrangements for machine-readable judgments: These arrangements contribute to developing user-friendly search facilities that make case law more accessible to legal professionals and the public. While all Member States have at least some arrangements in place, a considerable variance among Member States remains in terms of how advanced these arrangements are.
-Electronic means during the judicial procedure are only partially available: In more than half of the Member States, electronic submission of claims and transmission of summons is still not in place or is possible only to a limited extent, as was already seen in the 2019 EU Justice Scoreboard. Large gaps remain in particular as regards the possibility to follow court proceedings online, where no Member State has reached full deployment in all courts in all areas of law.
-Use of ICT tools by courts still limited in some countries: While most Member States have fully implemented an ICT case management system, there are a few exceptions, and gaps continue to remain as regards tools of producing court activity. In some Member States, it is still not possible to ensure nationwide data collection across all justice area.
-Investment on justice remained stable: Overall, in 2018, general government total expenditure on law courts continued to remain mostly stable or increase in Member States. The breakdown of this expenditure into different categories (e.g. salaries, court buildings, software, building rentals, legal aids and consumables) however once again reveals significant differences in spending patterns among Member States.
-Limits to access to justice for poorer citizens: The Scoreboard confirms that in some Member States, citizens whose income is below the poverty threshold do not receive any legal aid in certain types of disputes. Compared to last year, accessibility of legal aid has remained unchanged. The difficulty in benefiting from legal aid in combination with partly significant levels of court fees in some Member States could have a dissuasive effect for people in poverty to access justice.
-Most Member States have standards on timing: However, these are not always developed to an equal extent at all instances and in all areas of law. Quality standards fixing time limits are most widespread, while standards on backlogs and timeframes remain comparatively less common.
How does the EU Justice Scoreboard contribute to the European Semester?
The Scoreboard looks at a range of indicators to assess the independence, quality and efficiency of national justice systems and helps assessing the impact of justice reforms in Member States. If the Scoreboard reveals poor performance, the reasons behind it always require deeper analysis of the national legal and institutional context. This country-specific assessment is carried out in the context of the European Semester process through bilateral dialogue with the authorities and stakeholders concerned.
The country-specific assessment 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 that the Council adopts country-specific recommendations to improve the effectiveness of national justice systems.
The preliminary findings of the 2020 Scoreboard were already taken into account for the country-specific assessment carried out within the 2020 European Semester and have informed the preparation of the Commission proposals for the 2020 country-specific recommendations of 20 May 2020. The 2020 country-specific recommendations are in the process of being adopted by the Council.
How can effective justice systems support growth?
Effective justice systems which uphold the rule of law have since a long time been identified as having a positive economic impact. Where judicial systems guarantee the enforcement of rights, creditors are more likely to lend, businesses are dissuaded from opportunistic behaviour, transaction costs are reduced and innovative businesses are more likely to invest.
The beneficial impact of well-functioning national justice systems for the economy is supported by a wide range of studies and academic literature, including from the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the OECD, the World Economic Forumand the World Bank.
How does the 2020 EU Justice Scoreboard examine the effectiveness of justice?
The Scoreboard uses indicators that examine the three main features of an effective justice system: efficiency, quality and independence.
The indicators related to the efficiency of proceedings include: the caseload, the estimated 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. The Scoreboard also presents the average length of proceedings in specific fields when EU law is involved.
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 to cover these factors: such as the electronic submission of claims, communication between the courts and parties, the training of judges, financial resources, and ICT case management systems and standards.
The Scoreboard examines the perception of judicial independence both among the general public and companies. It also presents information on legal safeguards in Member States for certain situations where judicial independence could be at risk, and overviews on the organisation of national prosecution services.
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 European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ) with which the Commission has concluded a contract to carry out a specific annual study. This data ranges from 2010 to 2018, and has been provided by Member States according to CEPEJ's methodology. The study also provides detailed comments and country-specific fact 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, the European Competition Network, the Communications Committee, the European Observatory on infringements of intellectual property rights, the Expert Group on Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism, Eurostat, the European Judicial Training Network (EJTN), and the World Economic Forum.
Why is some data missing?
The availability of data, in particular for indicators on the efficiency of justice systems, continues to improve as many Member States have invested in their capacity to produce better judicial statistics. Where difficulties in gathering or providing data continue to exist, this is either due to insufficient statistical capacity or to the fact that the national categories for which data are collected do not correspond exactly to the ones used for the Scoreboard. Only in very few cases is the data gap due to a lack of contributions from national authorities. The Commission will continue to encourage Member States to further reduce this data gap.