23rd Conference of European Ministers of Justice
DELIVERING JUSTICE IN THE 21ST CENTURY
8-9 June 2000
London, United Kingdom
Conclusions, Report by the Secretary General of the Council of Europe
The 23rd Conference of European Ministers of Justice was held in London on 8 and 9 June 2000 at the invitation of the British Government. The agenda, list of participants and Resolutions adopted are set out in Appendices I-III to this report.
The Bureaux of the European Committee on Legal Co-operation (CDCJ) and the European Committee on Crime Problems (CDPC), as well as the Senior Officials, held their preparatory meetings on the eve of the Conference.
3. The Lord Chancellor was elected Chair of the Conference. The Ministers of Justice of Moldova and the Russian Federation were elected Vice-Chairs.
4. The theme of the Conference was "Delivering Justice in the 21st Century".
The debates were organised along the following subthemes:
- ways of avoiding delay;
- modernising the court;
- modern ways of delivering legal advice.
5. The main report was submitted by the Lord Chancellor, and a number of Ministers submitted a memorandum; the list of documents appears in Appendix IV.
6. In his opening speech, the Deputy Secretary General said that efficiency and fairness of justice are crucial elements for the life of a State based on the rule of law. While more serious in certain countries than others, complexity, length and cost of judicial proceedings are common problems throughout Europe.
The Council of Europe could facilitate international co-operation to help States obtain appropriate technological equipment and expertise.
7. On the occasion of the Conference, several Ministers signed or ratified a number of Council of Europe Treaties in the legal field; details are provided in Appendix V to this report.
8. The Ministers expressed their gratitude to the British authorities for hosting the Conference, and for their cordial hospitality.
9. The Ministers took note of the invitation by the Minister of Justice of the Russian Federation to hold the 24th Conference of European Ministers of Justice in Moscow in 2001, and of his proposal for a theme "Implementation of judicial decisions in conformity with European standards".
Main report by the Lord Chancellor
10. In addition to the obligation imposed by Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights to provide to everyone "a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time", States start reacting to the view of the litigant as a consumer, who expects a service responsive to his needs. Alternative dispute resolution methods are often preferable to justice in the traditional sense. Possible measures to improve efficiency must also be examined from the point of view of cost-effectiveness.
11. The problem of delays can and must be seriously addressed, examining at the same time the results expected and the means envisaged. Changes in court practises should be brought about, but this must be done in a clear legal framework, in order to avoid disparity of treatment.
12. Receiving appropriate legal advice at an early stage of a possible dispute may avoid the need for formal litigation, or shorten its duration. Obstacles to obtaining legal advice are its cost and inaccessibility, and ignorance by the citizens of the facilities available. The report describes the British experience.
13. Modernising the court by the use of new technology has a very real potential to improve access to justice and the efficiency of the courts. Since a functioning judicial system is a requirement of a democratic country, efforts should be made at international level to provide assistance to States which do not yet have the means and the expertise to acquire modern technology.
Summary of the discussions
Ways of avoiding delay
During the discussions concerning ways of avoiding delay, the following points were made by participants:
a. citizens expect their rights to be protected effectively without undue delay as slow justice is no justice;
b. many delays occur in the courts of member States owing, in particular, to inappropriate procedures and the growing number, complexity and backlog of cases;
c. a distinction should be made between access to justice and access to court proceedings as not all cases need to be resolved by the courts - extra judicial methods of dispute resolution can reduce the volume of cases before the courts and provide citizens with more appropriate means of settling disputes;
d. parties should be encouraged, at an early stage, to reach an agreement and, whenever appropriate, alternative procedures, such as mediation, should be considered;
e. judges should adopt efficient working methods, should not remain passive and should manage their cases and monitor proceedings effectively;
f. appropriate procedures to reduce the length of cases should be used (eg small claims procedures, decriminalisation, summary procedures, use of a single judge, fast track procedures, striking out claims where there is no real cause of action, sanctions when deadlines are not met, pre-trial filters, timetables for proceedings, restrictions on appeals, improved co-operation between the different agencies dealing with questions concerning justice, proper enforcement procedures);
g. in order to promote commercial interests States need to ensure that cases can be completed quickly;
h. information technologies play an important role in reducing delay and full use should be made of such technologies.
Modernising the courts
During the discussions concerning modernising the courts the participants noted:
a. the importance of adopting customer led policies when carrying out reforms to the courts;
b. the success of information technologies in speeding up both the administration of the courts and court proceedings;
c. the opportunities given by the use of new technologies to reorganise the legal system in order to take account of these technologies;
d. the necessity for States to develop an overall strategy for the introduction of information technologies in the courts which, if necessary, could be carried out on a step by step basis;
e. the use of information technologies had reduced the cost of litigation for both the customer and the State and brought justice closer to the customer;
f. new technologies, which have been used with success, included:
- video links (recordings of evidence or court proceedings, video conferences eg. in cases concerning minors or victims of sexual abuse, to avoid the unnecessary transfer of prisoners, where persons live far from the courts)
- data base or internet (eg laws, regulations, case law, access to court registers, electronic digital signatures, commercial registers, land registers, criminal records, pending criminal proceedings, court judgments, electronic transactions management systems)
g. although the new technologies provided the courts with essential assistance, many different types of procedures would still have to be retained to take account of different needs;
h. all persons dealing with justice should receive specific training in information technologies and data protection requirements and judges and lawyers would adopt different working methods owing to their improved access to information;
i. court buildings, their infrastructure and court procedures would have to be adapted to take account of new technologies;
j. the interest of certain European States in receiving used computers from donor States.
During the Conference, the Ministers attended a demonstration of modern technologies in the Courtroom of the future.
Modern ways of delivering legal advice
During the discussions concerning modern ways of delivering legal advice, the participants underlined, inter alia, the following points:
a. legal aid, advice and assistance as a condition for the protection and promotion of Human Rights;
b. the need for citizens to be informed as to their rights and to be able to enforce them in practice;
c. the need to make a distinction between legal advice and assistance outside court proceedings, on the one hand, and legal representation in court proceedings, on the other;
d. the possbility for legal advice to be provided not only by lawyers, but also by other professionals, provided that the quality of the service is ensured;
e. the setting up of web sites to provide legal information and advice;
f. the relevance of the « no win, no fees » system (especially in certain cases) to facilitate access to justice;
g. the need to encourage the use of Alternative Dispute Resolution proceedings;
h. legal aid irrespective of the nationality of litigants;
i. in order to reduce costs, the possiblity of setting up a system based on fixed fees;
j. private insurance to cover the costs of legal aid, advice and assistance as a means to reduce costs;
k. the setting up of a Europe-wide legal aid procedure which would take into account, inter alia, the economic situation of litigants and their chances of success;
l. in the triangle « State funder – clients – lawyers », there is a need to strike a balance between the importance of ensuring the quality and the crediblity of the legal advice and assistance provided, with the costs of the system as a whole;
m. the need to bring justice closer to citizens and, in this context, the possiblity of setting up law clinics run by law students to provide initial legal advice and assistance;
n. the extention of legal aid to litigants wishing to refer a case to the European Court of Human Rights.
Moreover, information was given on the various systems existing in States to provide legal aid, advice and assistance to persons in need. Among others, the following systems were mentioned:
1) merit tests and assessment of the chances of success by a government agency and free choice of a lawyer;
2) issue of a license to persons entitled to provide legal aid;
3) designation of a legal aid lawyer by the Bar Association combined with the obligation of any lawyer on the list to provide legal aid;
4) setting up of non-governmental bodies subsidised, in whole or in part, through public funds.
The Deputy Secretary General wishes to pay tribute to the British authorities and thank them for the excellent organisation of the Conference and for the warm welcome extended to the participants.
Resolution No 1 "Delivering justice in the 21st century"
THE MINISTERS participating in the 23rd Conference of European Ministers of Justice (London, 2000),
Having discussed the topic of delivering justice in the 21st century, in particular, as regards ways of avoiding delays, modern ways of delivering legal advice and modernising the courts, on the basis of the Report prepared by the Lord Chancellor on behalf of the United Kingdom and the other information presented to the Conference;
Having regard to the Report on cost-effective measures taken by States to increase the efficiency of justice, prepared by the European Committee on Legal Co-operation (CDCJ), in consultation with the European Committee on Crime Problems (CDPC), following the recommendation made by the European Ministers of Justice at their 20th Conference (Budapest, 1996);
Bearing in mind the requirements of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the case law of the European Court of Human Rights and the relevant international legal instruments drawn up within the Council of Europe in the field of the efficiency and fairness of justice and the necessity of their proper implementation;
Recalling the results achieved during the multilateral and bilateral legal co-operation activities carried out by the Council of Europe and its member States and convinced of the need for these results to be properly followed up through concrete legislative or other proposals aiming at improving the functioning of the judicial system;
Having regard to the decisions of the Committee of Ministers concerning the monitoring procedure on questions relating to the functioning of the judicial system;
Recognising that fair, efficient and accessible legal systems underpin and strengthen the Rule of Law, on which European democracies rest;
Aware that development of trade and industry is likewise dependent on confidence in the fairness, efficiency and accessibility of the legal systems in countries seeking to attract inward investment;
Recognising that the Rule of Law principle can be a reality only if citizens have an effective right in practice to enforce their legal rights and challenge unlawful acts;
Recognising that delay in legal proceedings represents a significant obstacle to the achievement of justice;
Recognising that availability of legal advice and assistance in appropriate cases is a key component of access to justice;
Recognising the need to make continuous efforts to bring justice closer to citizens and improve the efficiency and the functioning of judicial proceedings, while taking into account the specific needs of each jurisdiction;
Agreeing that access to justice should not be impaired by high legal costs;
Reaffirming the need for all persons to have an effective access to justice and for States to find cost-effective methods to provide such access to justice;
Conscious of the need to make full use of all appropriate modern technologies to facilitate access to justice, to improve the efficiency and the functioning of the judicial system, to reduce the costs of justice and to extend the service provided;
AGREE that a successful strategy to improve the efficiency and the functioning of the judicial systems in Europe requires a firm commitment by States to work together in order to find solutions to their common problems;
DECIDE to take all necessary measures at a national and international level to improve the efficiency and the functioning of the judicial systems, by reducing delays, exploring alternative ways of delivering legal advice and assistance, as well as increasing the use of information technology (IT) systems in the administration and functioning of justice,
INVITE THE COMMITTEE OF MINISTERS
1. to give high priority to the work in the field of justice and to instruct the relevant bodies within the Council of Europe, notably the European Committee on Legal Co-operation (CDCJ) and the European Committee on Crime Problems (CDPC) to consider, in their respective fields of competence, measures, in particular those indicated in this Resolution, aimed at promoting a culture of respect for law, justice and democracy, and promoting citizens’ awareness of their individual rights and responsibilities, by ensuring that, in all member States, legal rights are given effect in practice, and guaranteeing that all citizens have effective access to justice. Such measures should in particular be aimed at:
a. educating citizens as to their rights whilst at the same time making plain that rights carry with them responsibility to respect the rights of others;
b. providing citizens with the information they need in order to enforce their rights with confidence through the appropriate judicial or extra-judicial mechanism;
c. generating increased public confidence in the functioning of the justice system, notably by increasing its efficiency whilst guaranteeing its independence;
2. to instruct the European Committee on legal Co-operation (CDCJ) and the European Committee on Crime Problems (CDPC) to consider:
a. means to make best use of appropriate new technologies to provide improved legal services,
b. means to strengthen international co-operation to enable States to obtain appropriate information technology (IT) applications and expertise for legal services,
c. setting up an Internet based information centre providing a showcase of examples of “best practice” of effective laws and procedures to assist States to improve the functioning of their judicial systems;
3. to instruct the European Committee on Legal Co-operation (CDCJ), in consultation with the European Committee on Crime Problems (CDPC), to prepare an appropriate legal instrument or instruments aimed at promoting efficiency of justice throughout Europe by:
a. defining and developing the principles to be applied in the field of justice, in the light of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Resolutions and Recommendations of the Committee of Ministers concerning the functioning of justice; and
b. elaborating a mechanism to enable States:
(i) to examine the results achieved by the different legal systems in the light of those principles by using, amongst other things, common statistical criteria and means of evaluation,
(ii) to implement the international legal instruments concerning efficiency and fairness of justice,
(iii) having regard to the specific needs of the country concerned, to identify concrete ways to improve the functioning of their judicial systems;
4. to instruct the European Committee on Legal Co-operation (CDCJ) to prepare an action plan aiming at assisting States in setting up or reforming their national system of legal advice and assistance or developing alternatives to legal advice and assistance;
5. to instruct the European Committee on Legal Co-operation (CDCJ), in consultation with the European Committee on Crime Problems (CDPC), as appropriate, and in co-operation with other international institutions, in particular the European Union:
a. to draw up a programme of work aimed at encouraging the use, where appropriate, of alternative, extra-judicial dispute resolution procedures,
b. to disseminate information on the laws and procedures in States on the above matters through a Council of Europe Internet web site;
6. to instruct the European Committee on Legal Co-operation (CDCJ) and the European Committee on Crime Problems (CDPC) to report to a future Conference of European Ministers of Justice on the progress made by States to improve the efficiency and the functioning of justice, to set up modern ways of delivering legal advice and assistance and to modernise their courts.
Resolution No 2 on the Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe
THE MINISTERS participating in the 23rd Conference of European Ministers of Justice (London, 2000),
Recalling Resolution No. 2 on South-Eastern Europe adopted during their 22nd Conference (Chisinau, 1999);
Having regard to the Final Communiqué of the 106th Session of the Committee of Ministers, which took place in Strasbourg on 10 and 11 May 2000, in particular as regards the Stability Pact and, in this context, to the appeal launched on this occasion to the financial partners of the Stability Pact to pay special attention to the need to contribute to the funding of Council of Europe projects, in particular those in key areas of its competence such as the functioning of justice, local democracy and the reform of public administration, taking account of the priorities of the Stability Pact;
Recognising the wide experience of the Council of Europe in the promotion of the Rule of law, pluralist democracy and human rights;
Welcoming the projects presented by the Council of Europe within the framework of the Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe and, notably, the Action Plan for the reform of the judicial system, the PACO programme against corruption and organised crime, as well as the projects for reforms of the penitentiary system, administration and administrative justice;
Conscious of the importance of these projects in order to guarantee the stability in South-Eastern Europe and the priority nature given to them within the Stability Pact,
a) the Governments of member States to express their sincere support for the projects presented by the Council of Europe in the justice field which have been agreed through the Stability Pact process;
b) the Donor parties in the Stability Pact process to ensure that the projects mentioned in the previous paragraph receive sufficient budgetary means for their quick implementation.
Resolution No 3 on the fight against cyber-crime
THE MINISTERS participating in the 23rd Conference of European Ministers of Justice (London, June 2000),
Considering that on the proposal of the European Committee on Crime Problems (CDPC) the Committee of Ministers gave terms of reference to the Committee of Experts on Crime in Cyberspace (PC-CY) in February 1997 to draft a binding legal instrument dealing, inter alia, with substantive, procedural and international co-operation issues relating to computer crime;
In view of the draft Convention on Cybercrime prepared by the PC-CY during more than three years of work;
Taking into account the decision to make public the text of the said draft Convention (draft n° 19);
Aware of the importance attached by Council of Europe member States, Observer States and the international community at large to an early conclusion of the work of Committee PC-CY;
Aware also that negotiations are still to continue on a number of outstanding issues before agreement is reached on a final text;
Taking into consideration the Common Position of 27 May 1999 adopted by the Council of the European Union, which supports the drawing up of the Council of Europe’s draft Convention on Cybercrime which will contain, inter alia, provisions to facilitate international co-operation, including mutual legal assistance, to the widest extent possible;
In the light of the discussions that took place at the G-8 Conference on “government/industry dialogue on safety and confidence in cyberspace”, held in Paris on 15-17 May 2000,
EXPRESS their strong support for the negotiations taking place within Committee PC-CY and encourage the negotiating parties to pursue their efforts with a view to finding appropriate solutions to the outstanding issues, so as to enable the largest possible number of States to become Parties to the Convention;
ACKNOWLEDGE that it is essential to establish a swift and efficient system of international co-operation, which takes duly into account the specific requirements of the fight against crime in a computer environment;
ENCOURAGE Committee PC-CY to speed up its work with a view to finalising the text of the Convention before the end of this year;
INVITE the Secretary General to consider the work of the PC-CY as a matter of priority and provide this Committee with the means it needs to execute its terms of reference;
INVITE the Committee of Ministers to consult without delay the Parliamentary Assembly on the draft Convention prepared by the PC-CY.
Resolution No 4
THE MINISTERS participating in the 23rd Conference of European Ministers of Justice (London, 2000)
Aware of the advantage of arranging personal contacts between the Ministers responsible for their governments’ policy in the legal field in order to foster the progress of cooperation in this area in Europe,
EXPRESS the warmest thanks to the British Government for the excellent organisation of the 23rd Conference in London and for its kind hospitality ;
TAKE NOTE with gratitude of the invitation of the Minister of Justice of the Russian Federation to hold the 24th Conference of European Ministers of Justice in Moscow, in September 2001, and of his proposal for a subject “Implementation of judicial decisions in conformity with European standards”.