EU Justice Scoreboard 2018: justice systems’ key role in upholding the rule of law and EU values

Jourova EU Justice Scoreboard

Vĕra Jourová, Member of the EC in charge of Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, will give a press conference on EU Justice Scoreboard 2018. © European Union , 2018 / Photo: Lukasz Kobus.

This article is brought to you in association with the European Commission.

Yesterday, the European Commission publishes the 2018 EU Justice Scoreboard which gives a comparative overview of the independence, quality and efficiency of justice systems in the EU Member States.

It aims to assist national authorities to improve the effectiveness of their justice systems.

The 2018 EU Justice Scoreboard comes at a time when upholding the rule of law is high on the EU agenda. Without the rule of law, democracy, civil rights and sound financial management of EU funds are at risk,” said Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality Věra Jourová. ‘With the Scoreboard we encourage and give examples for good justice reforms. The bottom line for any such reform is that it there is no rule of law without high European standards on judicial independence. The new Scoreboard looks at the key indicators and will help Member States to apply these standards.”

Compared to the previous editions, the 2018 Scoreboard further develops the different indicators. It strengthens in particular the section on judicial independence, which is relevant for assessing the rule of law. It looks in greater details at the Councils for the Judiciary, at the involvement of the executive and the parliament in appointments and dismissals of judges and court presidents, as well as at the organisation of prosecution services. It also presents, for the first time,data on the length of proceedings in all court instances.

The Justice Scoreboard is part of the toolbox used by the Commission to monitor the justice reforms of Member States, along with the European Semester, the Rule of Law Framework, the Cooperation and Verification Mechanisms and infringement proceedings. The Commission also considers that the sound financial management of EU funds by Member States requires an effective judicial protection by independent courts. Therefore, as part of the Multiannual Financial Framework, the Commission proposed a new rule of law mechanism. This Regulation establishes a mechanism under which the Union could suspend, reduce or restrict access to EU funding in case of generalised deficiencies as regards the rule of law in a Member State.

Key findings of the 2018 edition include:

  • Judicial independence: Businesses’ perception of independence has improved or remained stable in about two-thirds of Member States, when compared with the previous year or since 2010, but it also has decreased in some countries. Both citizens and companies see the interference or pressure from government and politicians, as main reason for lack of independence of courts and judges. The new indicator on the organisation of prosecution services shows that there is a widespread tendency towards a more independent prosecutor’s office, rather than one subordinated or linked to the executive.
  • Financial resources to judicial systems: Overall, the level of general government expenditure on the judicial system remained stable in most Member States but wide differences between countries exist. Member States use mostly historical or actual cost for determining financial resources instead of relying on the actual workload or court request. 16 Member States used EU funds for supporting their justice systems.
  • Efficiency of the justice system: Positive developments in the Member States facing challenges may be observed, but civil and commercial proceedings still remain very long in several Member States. In the area of anti-money laundering, court proceedings in first instance take up to a year on average, in about half of the Member States. They can take on average even two or more years in a number of Member States.

Next steps

The findings of the 2018 Scoreboard were taken into account for the country-specific assessment carried out within the 2018 European Semester and the proposals for country specific recommendations issued by the European Commission on 23 May 2018. These policy recommendations are discussed between Member States in the Council. EU leaders endorse them in June before Council adopts them in July. Governments then incorporate the recommendations into their reform plans and national budgets for the following year.

Background

The Scoreboard mainly focuses on litigious civil and commercial cases as well as administrative cases in order to assist Member States in their efforts to pave the way for a more investment, business and citizen-friendly environment. The Scoreboard focuses on the three main elements of an effective justice system:

  • Efficiency: indicators on the length of proceedings, clearance rate and number of pending cases.
  • Quality: indicators on legal aid, court fees, training, monitoring of court activities, budget, and human resources.
  • Independence: indicators on the perceived judicial independence among companies and the general public, and on safeguards relating to judges.

Improving the effectiveness of national justice systems is a well-established priority of the European semester — the EU’s annual cycle of economic policy coordination. The EU Justice Scoreboard helps Member States to achieve this by providing an annual comparative overview of functioning of national justice systems. In the 2018 European semester, based on a proposal from the Commission, the Council addressed country specific recommendations to five Member States in this area: Croatia, Italy, Cyprus, Portugal and Slovakia.

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