EU Justice Scoreboard 2021: Questions and Answers

(Source: European Commission)

Today, the European Commission has published the 2021 EU Justice Scoreboard, which gives a comparative overview of the efficiency, quality and independence of the justice systems in EU Member States. This is the ninth edition.

What is the EU Justice Scoreboard?

The EU Justice Scoreboard is one of the tools in the EU’s Rule of Law toolbox used by the Commission to monitor justice reforms undertaken by Member States. It is a comparative information tool that aims to assist the EU and Member States to improve the effectiveness of national justice systems. It does this by providing data on the efficiency, quality, and independence of the justice systems in all Member States.

The Scoreboard contributes to identifying good practices, improvements and potential shortcomings. It shows trends in the functioning of national justice systems over time. It does not present an overall single ranking, but an overview of how all the justice systems function. This is based on various indicators that are of common interest to all Member States.

The Scoreboard does not promote any particular type of justice system and puts all Member States on an equal footing. Whatever the model of the national justice system – or the legal tradition in which it is anchored – timeliness, independence, affordability and user-friendly access are some of the essential features of an effective justice system.

Why are national justice systems important for the EU?

Effective justice systems are essential for implementing EU law and for upholding the rule of law and the values upon which the EU is founded. They ensure that individuals and businesses can fully enjoy their rights, strengthen mutual trust, and help to build a business and investment-friendly environment in the single market. Effective justice systems are also crucial for the implementation of EU law because national courts act as EU courts when applying EU law.

What about the link between the Scoreboard and the Rule of Law Report?

The EU Justice Scoreboard is part of the EU’s rule of law toolbox and one of the sources of information for the Rule of Law Report. It complements the annual Rule of Law Report, by providing comparative data on the functioning of national justice systems, while the annual Rule of Law Report presents a qualitative assessment of significant developments related to the rule of law in all 27 Member States. The Justice Scoreboard and the Rule of Law Report thus complement each other. The 2021 EU Justice Scoreboard has been further developed also to reflect the needs for additional comparative information as observed during the preparation of the 2020 Rule of Law Report.

The EU’s rule of law toolbox consists of a wide range of tools to carefully monitor, assess, and respond to the rule of law issues in Member States, among others infringement procedures, the European Semester, the EU Justice Scoreboard, the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), the Rule of Law Framework, the procedure of Article 7 TEU, and the comprehensive Rule of Law Mechanism, which includes the annual Rule of Law Report.

What are the main novelties in the ninth edition of the EU Justice Scoreboard?

The 2021 edition of the Scoreboard contains six new figures on the digitalisation of justice that extend our understanding of:

  • procedural rules allowing digital technology in courts that are in place across the Member States,
  • use of digital technology by courts and prosecution services,
  • electronic communication tools available in courts and prosecution services.

Further, as regards judicial independence there are new indicators on:

  • the independence of national supreme court judges,
  • the autonomy of prosecution services and
  • the independence of lawyers and bars.

The 2021 Scoreboard also presents information on how national supreme courts adapted their procedures to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.This year’s Scoreboard also presents:

What are the main findings of the 2021 EU Justice Scoreboard?

  • Efficiency is one important aspect of every justice system. An efficient justice system manages its caseload and backlog of cases, and delivers its decisions without undue delay. The Scoreboard shows that efficiency has improved or remained stable in 10 Member States, while it decreased, albeit often only marginally, in nine Member States between 2012 and 2019, which is before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Challenges persist as regards the perception of judicial independence. In two-thirds of Member States, the perception of judicial independence by the general public has improved, as compared to 2016. However, compared to last year, the public’s perception of independence has decreased in almost half of the Member States. 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.
  • Digitalisation:
  • Most Member States already use digital solutions, such as videoconferencing tools, artificial intelligence or block-chain based tools, in different contexts and to varying degrees but overall there is significant room for improvement. Less than half of the Member States have procedural rules, which allow for the use of distance communication and for the admissibility of evidence in digital format only. In the remaining Member States, this is possible only in limited situations.
  • The majority of Member States already have different digital tools at the disposal of courts, prosecutors and staff members, including secure electronic tools for communication. However, in a number of Member States courts are able to communicate via secure electronic solutions only with certain legal professionals and/or national authorities. In the case of prosecution services, less than one third of Member States provide for comprehensive secure electronic communication with legal professionals and national institutions.
  • Most Member States provide citizens and businesses (or their legal representatives) with online access to ongoing or closed cases in civil/commercial and administrative cases, albeit in various degrees. Nevertheless, in criminal cases in the majority of Member States defendants and victims have very limited possibilities to follow or carry out part of their case using digital solutions, while in some Member States this possibility does not exist at all.
  • Compared to previous years, online access to court judgments has not progressed, particularly for the publication of judgments at the highest instance: 17 Member States publish all civil/commercial and administrative judgments and 15 Member States also publish criminal judgments at the highest instance.
  • There is a growing tendency to help generating machine-readable judicial decisions by introducing metadata such as key words, dates of decisions and words as well as dates of decisions and the regulation of personal data in the published judgments. Compared to 2019, most Member States reported an improvement in this area in 2020.
  • General government total expenditure on law courts continued to remain mostly stable in Member States in 2019. The breakdown of this expenditure into different categories (e.g. salaries, court buildings, software, building rentals, legal aids and consumables) however continues to show significant differences in spending patterns among Member States.
  • The Scoreboard indicates some limits as regards access to justice for poorer citizens. Compared to 2019, the accessibility of legal aid has been tightened in about a third of the Member States and widened in five Member States, especially regarding partial legal aid. This development is in line with the longer-term trend, where legal aid has become less accessible in some Member States. The difficulty in benefiting from legal aid in combination with partly significant levels of court fees in some Member States could discourage people living in poverty to access justice.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the justice systems?

The 2021 Justice Scoreboard presents information on how national supreme courts adapted their procedures to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. It shows that a majority of Member States introduced changes to procedural law to facilitate judicial functions of the courts, either through new legislation, Supreme Court rulings, court regulations or practices.

As regards quality, the 2021 EU Justice Scoreboard contains a new dedicated section on the digitalisation of justice systems. It shows that courts adapted to the pandemic, among others, thanks to digital tools. This new section presents comprehensive indicators taking stock of how advanced judicial authorities are in the digital transformation process. The findings reflect whether parties to proceedings and legal practitioners can participate using videoconferencing or whether judges and prosecutors can work remotely. Although most Member States already use digital solutions to varying degrees, there is significant room for improvement.

As regards efficiency, this year’s edition presents indicators up to and including 2019. The   impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the efficiency will show in future editions of the Scoreboard.

How can effective justice systems have an impact on the economy?

Effective justice systems which uphold the rule of law have a positive economic impact. Where judicial systems guarantee the enforcement of rights, creditors are more likely to lend, businesses are dissuaded from opportunistic behaviour, transaction costs are reduced and innovative businesses are more likely to invest.

The beneficial impact of well-functioning national justice systems for the economy is supported by a wide range of studies and academic literature, including from the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the OECD, the World Economic Forum and the World Bank.

The national recovery and resilience plans include justice reforms and investments in a number of Member States. The EU Justice Scoreboard will help monitor progress in implementing these reforms.

How does the 2021 EU Justice Scoreboard examine the effectiveness of justice?

The Scoreboard uses indicators that examine the three main features of an effective justice system: efficiency, quality and independence.

Efficiency

The indicators related to the efficiency of proceedings include: the caseload, the estimated length of judicial proceedings (disposition time), the clearance rate (the ratio of the number of resolved cases over the number of incoming cases) and the number of pending cases. The Scoreboard also presents the average length of proceedings in specific fields when EU law is involved.

Quality

Easy access to justice, adequate resources, effective assessment tools and the use of information and communication technologies are key factors that contribute to the quality of justice systems. The Scoreboard uses various indicators to cover digitalisation, such as access to online information and to court judgments, digital-ready procedural rules, use of digital technology by courts and prosecution services, secure electronic tools for communication or online access to case files. 

Independence

The Scoreboard examines the perception of judicial independence both among the general public and companies. It also presents information on legal safeguards in Member States for certain situations where judicial independence could be at risk. In addition, the Scoreboard provides overviews on the organisation of national prosecution services.

What is the methodology of the EU Justice Scoreboard?

The Scoreboard uses various sources of information. Large parts of the quantitative data are provided by the Council of Europe European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ) with which the Commission has concluded a contract to carry out a specific annual study. This data ranges from 2012 to 2019 and has been provided by Member States according to CEPEJ’s methodology. The study also provides detailed comments and country-specific factsheets that give more contextual information and should be read together with the figures.

Other sources of data are the group of contact persons on national justice systems, the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary (ENCJ), the Network of the Presidents of the Supreme Judicial Courts of the EU, the Association of the Councils of State and Supreme Administrative Jurisdictions of the EU (ACA-Europe), the European Competition Network, the Communications Committee, the European Observatory on infringements of intellectual property rights, the Expert Group on Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism, Eurostat, and the European Judicial Training Network (EJTN).

Why are some data missing?

Although data are still lacking for certain Member States, the data gap continues to decrease. The remaining difficulties in gathering data are often due to insufficient statistical capacity or the fact that the national categories for which data is collected do not exactly correspond to the ones used for the Scoreboard. The Commission will continue to encourage Member States to further reduce this data gap.

For further information

Press release

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