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Creating CEPEJ - Expectations and Achievements

By Eberhard Desch, Germany

Hope and fear, nothing unusual for a beginning, reigned when the work on elaborating the Statute for the Committee on the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ) started.
There was fear, or using a more diplomatic language, reluctance, because some states saw the danger that they would not give the best possible appearance if they were regarded from a comparative view. The idea was, as it is now said in article 2 of the Resolution of the Committee of Ministers establishing the CEPEJ, that CEPEJ shall have the task "to examine the results achieved by the different judicial systems in the light of the principles referred to in the preamble to this resolution by using, amongst other things, common statistical criteria and means of evaluation". The result of the work of the last ten years produced four Reports on the European Justice Systems. The last one was presented at a side event during the Conference of the Ministers of Justice of the Council of Europe in Vienna in September 2012.
These Reports give a picture of the actual status of the member states of the Council of Europe. Even if the CEPEJ always denied establishing a ranking, as it is done by the World Bank, the individual tables compiled for the Report show the place where each state is to be found with regard to the different issues. Therefore we can understand the reluctance to agree to methods which can bring us to a place which is unpleasant and not at all welcome to be shown to others.

But there was also hope. Hope that we would get a tool to improve the functioning of the justice systems. With this tool it would be easier to understand the main trends and evolutions of the judicial organisation, to identify difficulties, to propose reforms for improving the efficiency of justice and to support their implementation, and all this on behalf of 800 million Europeans. With the Report we have a precious tool for policy making, a tool for the justice systems, for ministries of justice, parliamentarians, professional groups within the framework of the judiciary, and for the whole judicial community.

Having now in our hands the Report, it is difficult to be aware of how much skill, how many methodological reflections and intellectual efforts were summoned up in the past years to obtain a useful result. Since we have a marvellous diversity of legal traditions and judicial structures, it is extremely difficult to compare the statistical data of two or more countries. A scheme of questions had to be elaborated to be able to collect and process the data and eventually to analyse the functioning of the justice systems. It was one of the biggest challenges to assure the comparability of the data. We can congratulate the Secretariat, the scientific consultants and the members of the relevant working group, above all Jean-Paul Jean, who overcame incredible obstacles and showed creativity to solve the problems. Nowadays the Report on the European Judicial Systems is well established and eagerly awaited, whereas the first one was an experiment, a forerunner and pioneer work. By the way, it merits the effort to translate the Report into the own language.

What made CEPEJ very special were our pioneering spirit and innovative approach. The tasks before us were
- the implementation of the Human Rights standards, in particular fairness in the proceedings,
- how to guarantee quality of decisions, thus creating legal security and confidence of the public as well as the economy,
- how to form a justice system which is near to and in service of the public, the users of justice, and takes into account their needs,
- and all this fulfilled without undue delay.

CEPEJ is entrusted with the task of proposing to the member States of the Council of Europe pragmatic solutions for judicial organisation, taking fully into account the users of justice. Therewith it contributes to relieve the case-load of the European Court of Human Rights by offering to States effective solutions to prevent violations of the right to a fair trial within a reasonable time.

The results of these efforts were quite a lot of useful documents, checklists and the CEPEJ studies. 16 of them are available on the website. Useful documents also came from the Targeted Co-operation, former called help programs. 12 countries received 14 studies allowing tailor-made approach to national problems.

Together with the European Union the Cristal Scales of Justice Award was created. This award brought and brings into view local and creative developments that are of service to improve access to justice or make contact to justice more user-friendly.

The CEPEJ Statute provides for creating networks and entering into contact with the academic world and with professional associations, such as the judges or the Rechtspfleger. They always have been of great support to the CEPEJ. In addition CEPEJ started a network of Pilot Courts. 34 countries nominated 53 courts and even more contact persons. This network guarantees that the work of CEPEJ is rooted in practice,

After the Second World War Europe became not only divided. Often political and legal systems fell apart or became nearly incompatible. The great chance and opportunity after the fall of the Berlin Wall made possible to come again together under the roof of common European values. Democracy, rule of law and Human rights are getting again a unified meaning and their significance.

So I would like to finish this speech with an idea which forms an arch over all the work of CEPEJ. In French it is "les rétrouvailles", you may translate it in English as reunion, with meaning of finding one another again. The European Justice systems are finding again the aims, standards, and dedication to justice and equity that the founding fathers of the Council of Europe had. These were the Pan-European idea and ideals, here in particular its legal and judicial aspects. Within the justice systems we are looking for ways to deliver justice with fairness and efficiency, to make quality decisions in a reasonable time, protecting Human Rights, and so earn the confidence of the citizens. Thus the justice system will make its own contribution to the rule of law and a well functioning democratic system.