The European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice

Comparing countries which are comparable

The CEPEJ’s 2008 study takes in 45 Council of Europe member states. Collation of quantitative data from countries with varying demographic, economic and judicial characteristics is an involved process, concerning which numerous methodological clarifications are given throughout the report. Data on all respondent states are thus set out in common tables, but indications are given to account for peculiarities and limitations regarding certain countries. It rests with each state, using the basic tool which we offer, to compare its national data with that of countries which it deems comparable, and to draw appropriate inferences for improving the quality and efficiency of its judicial system.

To carry out this work of comparison, it is necessary to pinpoint the specificities that explain the variations between countries. While the purpose of the report is to provide an overview of the situation of European judicial systems, it also furnishes a full range of tools for an in-depth study on the basis of relevant clusters. Thus a choice can be made according to the characteristics of the judicial systems, for example by distinguishing statute law countries from common law countries, or countries in transition from those with a long-standing legal tradition. Other criteria are to be taken into account as well, whether geographical (population density, with respect to court location, demographic (the 7 countries with fewer than one million inhabitants are not compared with the bigger countries) and economic (GDP level, countries within or outside the Euro zone, countries with sharp exchange rate variation).

Furthermore, a special effort has been made in order that the standards and the concepts employed in the scheme of questions and the explanatory note may embrace like realities. This is the case with the categories of courts (legal entity or geographical location), the judges (professional, lay, duty performed on a non-permanent basis or assessed in full time equivalent). The definition of the budget allocated to courts is broken down into parts, in such a way that the data forwarded by the member states correspond to similar accounting benchmarks. Although there are always peculiarities and margins of interpretation, a comparison of countries can be made on the basis of relevant clusters eliminating the principal skew factors.

Accordingly, if the selection criteria adopted are a minimum population level, prosperity measured by GDP above 20 000 € per inhabitant, and a comparable judicial system (leaving out the United Kingdom), a set of 12 countries can be composed for further meaningful comparison, for instance as to the number of professional judicial officers, using the same definitions drawn from the Council of Europe instruments.

[Professional justice officers (12 comparable countries)
Professional judges per 100 000 inhabitants in fte
Lawyers per professional judge
Notaries per 100 000 inhabitants
Lawyers per 100 000 inhabitants

The process of comparison, extending to closer analysis, can be performed in relation to a number of other data items, for instance the public budgets allocated to the judicial system (courts, prosecution system and legal aid) for 11 countries.

Annual public budget allocated to the judicial system
*Courts, prosecution system and legal aid
Justice budget per capita
Justice budget as a percentage of per capita GDP]

It emerges from the first stage of the comparison process that the countries of Southern Europe have the most lawyers. In the countries of statute law, the volume of procedural litigation appears larger. This accounts in some instances for the bigger budgets, but does not necessarily signify better justice - a qualitative assessment only to be founded on an array of relevant indicators, some of which are mentioned in the CEPEJ report.

Jean-Paul Jean
President of the Group on evaluation
Public Prosecutor to the Paris Court of Appeal,
Associate Professor at the University of Poitiers