The European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice

European judicial systems: towards efficiency and quality

In October 2008 the second evaluation report on European judicial systems was published. Compared with the 2006 report more detailed information is presented concerning the composition and functioning of judicial systems. Moreover, general trends with respect to improvements made in the area of court performance and changes in the structure of legal systems are identified too.

Regarding access to justice it must be noted that all the member states comply (as far as the legal norms concerned) with the minimum requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights providing legal aid for legal representation in criminal law cases. The European trend seems to go beyond this requirement, in offering legal aid in non-criminal cases as well. The geographical access to justice is changing at a European level, since many member states have decided to decrease the number of court locations. Especially small-sized courts are closed or merged with other courts.

To generate more access to justice for the citizens more and more countries are introducing special court websites or other means of electronic communication (e-justice) which makes it easy to retrieve practical information about judicial proceedings or even to follow the progress of the treatment of court cases. In addition to the growing attention for e-justice measures, the policies that has been introduced at a European level to stimulate the use of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) seems to have a positive effect on the implementation of ADR in many member states. Successful fields of applications can be found in mediation in commercial, family (divorce) and criminal matters.

Another general trend in Europe is the increase of the budgets allocated to judicial systems. To monitor the spending of the budgets and the (court) performance several countries apply a system of measurement of case flows and timeframes. In that respect the CEPEJ-evaluation report shows for the first time unique court performance figures, which makes it possible to present a fairly comparative ‘snapshot’ of the outcomes the courts in many member states. The measurement and comparability between countries on the topic of length of proceedings is still problematic. As was the case in the 2006 evaluation report, only a few countries provided details on length of proceedings for four case categories (divorce cases, employment dismissal, robbery cases and intentional homicide cases). It is expected that due to the work of SATURN (Study and Analysis of judicial Time Use Research Network) in the near future better insight can be given in this complex subject.

To mark the importance of quality of the judiciary a number of countries have indicated that court user surveys are conducted or that the public trust in the judiciary is (regularly) measured. Only a limited number of countries have an integral quality system for the courts in place. However, the attention for quality policies in the judiciary is still growing. Not only this is confirmed by the results of the evaluation study, but also by the fact that another Council of Europe body - the Consultative Council of European Judges (CCJE) – is preparing an opinion on the quality of judicial decisions.

Pim Albers
Special advisor to the CEPEJ