Positive developments in the efficiency of justice systems in the EU while trust in judicial independence decreases

epa07273200 A general view of the entrance of the European Court of Justice (Court of Justice of European Union) (ECJ) in Luxembourg, 10 January 2019. EPA-EFE/JULIEN WARNAND

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The EU has seen a continued improvement in the efficiency of justice systems in a large number of Member States. At the same time, according to the results of a Eurobarometer survey, the perception of judicial independence amongst citizens in a number of Member States has continued to decrease.

These were the two key findings from the European Commission’s 2020 Justice Scoreboard – a comparative overview of the efficiency, quality and independence of justice systems in all EU Member States.

Key findings of the 2020 edition:

  • Positive developments in the efficiency of justice systems: Since 2012, positive developments can be observed in most of the Member States that were identified in the context of the European Semester as facing specific challenges. In nearly all of those Member States, the length of first instance court proceedings has decreased or remained stable. Nearly all Member States reported a high clearance rate (more than 97%) meaning that courts are generally able to keep up with incoming cases, while making progress on backlogs. The Scoreboard also looks at efficiency in specific areas of EU law – selected because of their relevance for the single market and the business environment. These include consumer law, for example, where cases in seven Member States took less than three months to reach a decision; as well as money laundering, for which first instance court proceedings vary from a year on average in half of Member States to up to two years in several Member States facing challenges regarding prosecution of money laundering offences.

 

  • Perception of judicial independence has decreased compared to 2019: According to the results of a new Eurobarometer published today, in two-thirds of Member States, the perception of judicial independence amongst citizens has improved, since 2016. However, compared to last year, the public’s perception of independence has decreased in about two-fifths of all Member States and in about half of the Member States facing specific challenges. The interference or pressure from government and politicians was the most stated reason for the perceived lack of independence of courts and judges, followed by the pressure from economic or other specific interests.

 

  • Improvements in accessibility and gender equality: Almost all Member States provide access to some online information about their judicial system, while a majority provide information for visually or hearing impaired persons, as well as non-native speakers. Member States are starting to put in place arrangements for machine-readable judgments, albeit with variation between Member States in terms of how advanced these arrangements are. Judgements in this format are more user-friendly and more accessible to the wider public. Almost all Member States make at least some facilitations for children, with measures for child-friendly hearings, for example. However, child-friendly websites with information about the justice system exist in less than half of Member States. Finally, although women still represent less than 50% of judges in most Member States’ Supreme Courts, since 2010 figures continue to grow in most Member States.
  • Perception of judicial independence has decreased compared to 2019: According to the results of a new Eurobarometer published today, in two-thirds of Member States, the perception of judicial independence amongst citizens has improved, since 2016. However, compared to last year, the public’s perception of independence has decreased in about two-fifths of all Member States and in about half of the Member States facing specific challenges. The interference or pressure from government and politicians was the most stated reason for the perceived lack of independence of courts and judges, followed by the pressure from economic or other specific interests.

 

  • Improvements in accessibility and gender equality: Almost all Member States provide access to some online information about their judicial system, while a majority provide information for visually or hearing impaired persons, as well as non-native speakers. Member States are starting to put in place arrangements for machine-readable judgments, albeit with variation between Member States in terms of how advanced these arrangements are. Judgements in this format are more user-friendly and more accessible to the wider public. Almost all Member States make at least some facilitations for children, with measures for child-friendly hearings, for example. However, child-friendly websites with information about the justice system exist in less than half of Member States. Finally, although women still represent less than 50% of judges in most Member States’ Supreme Courts, since 2010 figures continue to grow in most Member States.

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