Modernising EU justice systems: New package to speed up digitalisation of justice systems and boost training of justice professionals

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


Today, the European Commission adopted a package of initiatives to modernise the EU justice systems. The two main pillars of the new package are the Communication on the digitalisation of justice in the EU, and the new Strategy on European judicial training. This digital justice toolbox aims at further supporting Member States to move ahead their national justice systems towards the digital era and at improving EU cross-border judicial cooperation between competent authorities. As regards European judicial training, the Commission equips judges, prosecutors and justice professionals for the challenges of the 21st century, such as digitalisation. It further aims at promoting a common European judicial culture, based on the rule of law, fundamental rights and mutual trust.

Věra Jourová, Vice-President for Values and Transparency, said: “Justice systems need to keep pace with digital transformation and to respond to the expectations of citizens. As national courts are also EU courts, we strongly support this new approach to digitalisation of justice systems. It will improve access to justice and cooperation in the EU’s area of freedom, security and justice, and the functioning of the internal market.

Didier Reynders, Commissioner for Justice, said: ”Judges, lawyers, prosecutors – everyone working in the field of justice needs to stand up to the challenges of the 21st century. This includes the whole new world of Artificial Intelligence, which we need to explore in full respect of the fundamental rights. The recent COVID-19 crisis has been a strong reminder of the need for a rapid digitalisation of justice. I am confident to say that the package we adopted today will allow citizens and business alike, everywhere in the Union, to be able to have easy access to justice, not just offline, but also online.”

Digitalisation of EU justice systems

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the fore the need for speeding up the digitalisation of justice. It has become evident that businesses and citizens must have access to justice also online, from their laptop at home. Today’s Communication on the Digitalisation of Justice in the EU provides a toolbox to promote the use of digital tools by Member States, in line with the principles of proportionality and subsidiarity. Here are four of the tools presented today:

  • Making digital the default option in cross-border judicial cooperation: To date, many judicial proceedings, including those that transcend borders, still take place with paper and by post. The European Commission will work on a legislative proposal to digitalise cross-border judicial cooperation procedures in civil, commercial and criminal matters. Adoption is planned for the end of 2021.
  • Fighting cross-border crime: The Case Management System of Eurojust, which allows the Agency to cross-check different cases to coordinate the EU fight against serious cross-border crime including terrorism, needs to be updated. In addition, the amendments to the Europol mandate will introduce a hit/no-hit link between EPPO and Europol. Thanks to these “hit/no hit connections” between their case management systems, Eurojust, Europol and EPPO will be aware of ongoing investigations and prosecutions. In 2021, the Commission will also present legislative initiatives on digital information exchange on cross-border terrorism cases and on the establishment of a Joint Investigation Teams Collaboration Platform.
  • Better access to information: Electronic databases are easy to consult, they minimise costs for users and are resilient to crises. Therefore, Member States should strive to digitalise their registers and work towards their interconnections.
  • IT tools for cross-border cooperation: e-CODEX (e-Justice Communication via Online Data Exchange) is the main tool for secure cooperation in civil, commercial and criminal law proceedings across borders. To date, only some Member States use e-CODEX. With the adoption of today’s legislative proposal, the Commission aims to make e-CODEX the gold standard for secure digital communication in cross-border judicial proceedings in all Member States. As of 1 July 2023, the Commission entrusts this system to the Agency eu-LISA. Another digital tool is eEDES (e-evidence digital exchange system), which some Member States use to swiftly and securely exchange European Investigation Orders, mutual legal assistance requests and associated evidence in digital format instead of by post. With the legislative proposal adopted today, the Commission encourages all Member States to connect to eEDES. These IT tools will modernise EU justice systems and generate real European added-value.

These measures put in motion the EU response to the need to further digitalise our justice systems. They will be funded with the mechanisms available under the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) 2021-2027 and Next Generation EU.

European judicial training

The 2020 Annual Report on the European Judicial Training shows that in 2019 more than 180,000 justice professionals – 12.9% of all EU justice professionals – were trained in EU law or in the law of another Member State. All in all, since the adoption of the first Judicial Training Strategy in 2011, 1.2 million justice professionals were trained in EU law.

This second edition of the EU Strategy on Judicial Training broadens the scope of the EU training offer to justice professionals to new policy areas, such as digitalisation and artificial intelligence, equipping them with the knowledge and skills needed to face the challenges of the 21st century. It also sets out ambitious goals: by 2024, 65% of judges and prosecutors and 15% of lawyers shall be trained yearly on EU law. The strategy also supports justice professionals in the Western Balkans and in other EU partner countries, in Africa and Latin America. In addition, justice professionals will be able to look for training courses on EU law via the European Training Platform, launched today for a first test phase and planned to be fully operational in the course of 2021.

Next steps

The toolbox set out in today’s Communication of digitalisation justice will be further discussed with the public administrations, judiciary, legal professional organisations and other stakeholders to ensure prompt and tangible follow-up. The Commission and the upcoming Presidency of the Council of the EU will organise an EU conference on judicial training in spring 2021.

Background

This package contributes to delivering on the Commission’s priorities for A new push for European democracy and A Europe fit for the digital age.

The responsibility for judicial training is shared with Member States and is further developed with the support of a number of stakeholders: training providers, national and European justice professions’ organisations. The European judicial training builds on the lessons learnt since the adoption of the 2011- 2020 European judicial training strategy, reflects the results of the Commission’s evaluation of the 2011-2020 strategy and of a wide public consultation conducted by the Commission in 2018.

On 13 October 2020, the Council adopted conclusions encouraging Member States to make use of digital tools throughout judicial proceedings. The Council called on the Commission to develop a comprehensive EU strategy on the digitalisation of justice by the end of 2020.

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