The European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice

Interview with Alan UZELAC, Ph.D. Professor at the Faculty of Law, University of Zagreb

The Inter University Centre of Dubrovnik (IUC) is organising a course on "Public and private justice – Dispute resolution in modern Societies". This initiative, supported by the CEPEJ, will be held in Dubrovnik (Croatia) from 28 May to 1st June 2007. One of the Course Directors answered to our questions.

- Which is the aim of this course?

The aim of the course “Public and Private Justice: Dispute Resolution in Modern Societies” is to establish an international and interdisciplinary forum for experts – legal scholars and professionals as well as researchers in social sciences and humanities – dedicated to the current issues of functioning of civil justice in Europe. In this context, the course has several goals. First, it aspires to deepen the knowledge about the problems of civil justice, exchange experiences about trends and developments in various national jurisdictions, and offer solutions to the topical difficulties that are being observed in some European jurisdictions, such as e.g. the length of judicial proceedings or the lack of transparency and efficiency. Further on, the goal of the course is to offer continuing education to legal professionals and advanced post-graduate students who wish to get a broader view on the administration of justice. Finally, it is our wish to lay foundations for the comparative study of national judiciaries, and provide solid scientific basis for the interpretation of quantitative and qualitative data about justice systems. In this sense, the overarching aim of the course is to promote study of justice administration as a separate and specific discipline. This is, in our view, very much needed for improving the quality of justice in national justice systems, in particular in countries that currently experience problems and attempt to reform their justice system.

- Public and private dispute resolution mechanisms?

One of the particular features of this course, and also the reason for its title, is the attempt to combine the study of public and private mechanisms of dispute resolution. Until recently, the dominating attitude was that public judiciary (adjudication in state courts) and private methods of dispute resolution (arbitration and mediation) are competitors or even rivals. Even today, arbitration and mediation is mainly studied separately from the study of civil procedure in national courts. Public and private justice systems are, admittedly, very different, but in our view they should be evaluated and studied together, as complementary ways of getting to justice. Public and private dispute resolution methods should be treated as partners that work together in order to offer better protection for the rights of citizens and legal persons. One of the essential features of democracy is the freedom of choice. In this sense, we feel that the users of the justice system need to have at their disposal effective and appropriate means of dispute resolution among which they can choose what they think is best for them. This not only makes the burden on the institutions of state lighter, but also contributes to better quality of justice for the sake of citizens. These and similar topics and ideas were tackled in the selection of studies, mainly elaborated on the basis of presentations given at 2006 course in Dubrovnik, and published this year in Antwerpen and Oxford under the course title “Public and Private Justice: Dispute Resolution in Modern Societies”. The papers were edited by two organizing course directors of the Dubrovnik course - Professor Remco van Rhee of the University of Maastricht and me, but the book contains texts written by a number of leading scholars and professionals from different countries.

- What is interesting in the CEPEJ works for this course?

Since the start of its work in 2003, the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice of the Council of Europe has developed into the most prominent European body for comparison and evaluation of the justice systems in Europe. The CEPEJ consists of a unique blend of experts from all 47 Council of Europe countries, and the fact that they are supported by their national governments guarantees comprehensiveness and quality of its results. Therefore, the data collected by the CEPEJ and the reports produced by it, are now an invaluable resource for all those who wish to improve their justice systems. They are also one of the richest sources for the further academic and professional study. We would like add another layer to the activities of the CEPEJ, by offering analytical study of the information that it has collected, by stimulating various interpretations of its reports and results, and by establishing a scientific framework for the assessment of its achievements. This was the principal reasons why we have decided to have as the main topic of the 2007 course the evaluation of the contribution of the CEPEJ to justice reforms in Europe. During five days of the course, some 50 participants from 20 different countries will have on the agenda the topics associated with the work of CEPEJ, such as the evaluation of justice systems, the judicial time management, legal aid and mediation. This is the first time that the work of the CEPEJ is analyzed as the main topic of an international academic course, but we are positive that it will not be the last time. The work of the CEPEJ will continue to be stimulating and inspiring for the Public and Private Justice course, and therefore we hope to maintain the co-operation with the Council of Europe and the Commission also in the next years.