The European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice


I. One of the main events since December 2012 was the reorganization of eight district courts in Lithuania: four Vilnius city district courts were joined into one Vilnius city district court, Kaunas region district and city district courts were joined into Kaunas district court and Siauliai region district and city district courts were joined into Siauliai district court. In this way the number of district courts was decreased from 54 to 49. Vilnius city district court became the biggest court in Lithuania with 108 judges. Lithuania managed to ensure the proper functioning of our judicial informational system (which had to be adapted to the changes) and team management principles in courts. Main preparatory work was done in December, 2012.
This reorganization, called “small court reform”, was a tool to make sure, that it is a good solution while reducing work load of judges. In Vilnius city district court judges, in spite of some adaptation period at the beginning, claim that their workload has been reduced. This is mainly because more complicated cases are no longer concentrated in one court, but are spread among judges of former four courts. Vice versa, judges who had a lot of less difficult cases now gain more difficult as well, which produces smaller amount of the cases at the end of a day. Also, room for better specialization of judges takes place.

II. In 2013 Judicial Council, afterwards Committee on Legal Affairs of the Parliament approved the Conception of the Judicial Reform in Lithuania. It is planned to join 49 district courts into 12, and 5 regional administrative courts into 2. It should be pointed out, that the access to justice shall not be diminished in any way, since present court premises shall be functioning as a divisions of a bigger court. Therefore administrative regulation of the courts shall be optimized and the workload of judges of such joined court shall be more or less alike. Litigants shall have an opportunity to submit their documents to every division of such a court and place of a hearing shall be established in more flexible way, taking into account the place of residence of litigants and their opinion. In those municipalities, where there is no court, a court hearing room of a relevant court could be established while enhancing the access to justice, shortening the way to court premises and reducing the litigation costs of the litigants.
The model of reform is determined taking into account the geographical placement of the courts, communication possibilities among the courts, premises, caseload, number of judges and their workload.

III. The changes made in legal acts on procedures of case hearing gave their effect and according to the report of the European Commission the civil cases are heard in quite a short time in Lithuania. In EU Justice Scoreboard 27 EU member states were compared as to the efficiency of their court systems and Lithuania completed:
(i) in the second place while resolving non-criminal cases (non-criminal cases include civil and commercial cases, enforcement cases, land registry cases, business registry cases and administrative law cases);
(ii)in the first place while resolving litigious civil and commercial cases (50 days).

IV. As to the legislation, March 1, 2013 the law on bankruptcy of natural persons came into force. These cases are heard in district courts of Lithuania (as first instance cases). Therefore challenges for developing new case law are ahead the courts.

V. From July 1, 2013, e-justice system shall come into effect, which means that litigants and other persons shall have an opportunity to deliver and receive court documents via electronic means. At the moment the preparatory work is being done and more information on the success and effectiveness could be given after the system starts to act.

VI. There was also some changes in the training and international relations sphere. From 1 January, 2013, training of the judges became a function of National courts administration therefore the system is slightly modified: more attention is given to international training of judges, sharing their experience with foreign colleagues. I. e. in 13-15 May 2013 Lithuania hosted a semifinal of THEMIS competition (of young judges) where Lithuania’s team’s written thesis was recognized as the best one.

VII. Surveys. The survey carried out by Vilnius university showed that 75,3 respondents (out of 397 persons) who participated in court hearings express their trust in courts. The survey was carried in 26 courts of different instance, 57,3 percent of the respondents had no legal background, (about 25 percent) studied law and 17 percent heard some legal subjects.
It is the beginning, the first step in determining the problems, why society has so little trust in courts. The second step is to be the broad survey, where participants of courts hearings in all the district courts and people outside the courts are involved.
Some local surveys were also developed in Kaunas regional court and Vilnius regional administrative court in 2012 which show that the respondents evaluate the court services rather positively: in Vilnius court it was 50 percent of the respondents (33 respondents) and in Kaunas - 91 percent (45 respondents).

VII. There were also some changes on self-governmental issues, which lead to more transparent and trustworthy judicial system.
From February1, 2013 the Judicial Ethics and Discipline Commission has broader functions – now the Commission not only decides on instituting disciplinary actions, but also gives consultations to judges on ethical issues and conclusion whether a judge was acting according to the principles of ethics. Every judge if he/she has a doubt whether the judicial ethic could be violated has a right to ask the Commission for the opinion. Other persons have a right not only to ask to institute disciplinary actions for judges, but also to give a conclusion whether there was a violation of ethics or negligence in the acts of the judge. The judge, while deciding on instituting the disciplinary action, has a right for a public representative or lawyer.
Also some amendments of the activity of the Permanent Commission for the Assessment of Activities of Judges are to be mentioned. From February, 2013, the Commission also hears the responses on the activity of judges (not while administering the justice) from the litigants and other participants of the court hearings. Such opportunity is given before every meeting of the commission via internet and website where information on future meetings is placed.