Sunday

19th May 2019

EU justice 'barometer' hindered by data gaps

  • The European Commission tries to determine the state of the EU's justice system through an annual 'Justice Scoreboard' (Photo: dierk schaefer)

There continues to be a gap in the data EU member states provide the European Commission about the functioning of their justice systems, the commission's EU 'justice scoreboard' revealed on Friday (26 April).

However, the availability of data "continues to improve as many member states have invested in their capacity to produce better judicial statistics", the report added.

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  • EU justice commissioner Vera Jourova said the commission was closely looking at the situation in Romania (Photo: European Commission)

The available data showed "that many countries continue to improve their judiciary", EU commissioner for justice Vera Jourova said in a statement.

"Sadly, some others are reversing the positive trends. There are still too many EU citizens who don't see their justice systems as independent and who are waiting too long for justice to be served," she added.

The data from the 2019 EU Justice Scoreboard showed, for example, that the time needed to resolve cases increased in Cyprus from at least 500 days in 2010 to more than 1,000 days in 2017.

The length of proceedings however was reduced drastically in Malta, from more than 800 to over 300. (The exact number of days are not clear from the graphics in the scoreboard report)

The average length of court cases involving money laundering however more than doubled in Malta, from around 600 days to more than 1,400 days.

There was no data on the length of court proceedings from the United Kingdom, however.

Neither was there such data on money laundering cases from Denmark, Germany, or Greece.

The report also looked at the average length of EU trademark infringement cases, in 2013, 2015, 2016, and 2017.

There was no data for any of those years from Belgium, Cyprus and the United Kingdom.

Of the 28 EU member states, there were only nine countries which had data for all four years (France, Finland, Hungary, Latvia, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden).

When looking at the average length of judicial review cases for electronic communications, more EU states have data for all four years.

However, there does not seem to be a pattern explaining the data gaps: some states don't have data on a number of indicators but do have them on others.

Finland, Latvia, Portugal, and Romania, were among the nine states that provided the trademark data for all years, yet had patchy data on electronic communications cases.

At the launch of the first justice scoreboard in 2013, the commission already noted that there were figures missing, with "some data (...) missing for nearly all member states".

The following year the United Kingdom explained why it was not providing all requested data.

"We have no intention of the UK becoming part of a one-size-fits-all EU justice system," said UK Justice Secretary Chris Grayling in 2014.

Judicial independence

The scoreboard does not single out specific EU member states in a naming and shaming manner - although it does point out that the commission has started legal cases against Poland.

It looked at polls that aim to measure perceived judicial independence, but does not subsequently rank EU member states.

The commission stressed the indicators "do not in themselves allow for conclusions to be drawn about the independence of the judiciaries of the member states, but represent possible elements which may be taken as a starting point for such an analysis".

Nevertheless, some of the figures send a pretty clear political message.

The report, for example, listed which authority would decide on disciplinary sanctions regarding judges.

In some countries a regular court or court president decides, while in others a special court composed of judges selected by other judges does so.

Poland was the only country which had a special category, marked light red, where the authority in such cases would be a special court composed of judges selected by the minister of justice - which allows the reader themselves to determine whether that is in line with judicial independence.

Romania

There are meanwhile also concerns for the strength of the rule of law in EU countries Hungary and Romania.

The report came out a day after Romanian president Klaus Iohannis signed a decree to hold a referendum asking citizens if they agreed to banning amnesty and pardon for corruption offences.

The Romanian plebiscite will be held on 26 May, the same day as the EU parliament elections in most EU countries, including Romania.

The president's announcement of the vote in turn came after Romanian lawmakers approved a bill which critics say would shut down several ongoing high-level corruption cases.

EU commissioner Jourova told press on Friday the commission was analysing the latest law, also in connection to other recent changes in Romania's justice system.

"We are looking at it with very big concerns because there is accumulation of factors which might result in the breach of the independence of [the] judiciary and of the system," said Jourova.

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