by Joana Covelo de Abreu, Junior Editor
E-justice: e-codex as the interoperable solution to a judicial integration?
Digital Single Market has become a new political calling for the EU as it can promote both economic growth and sustainable development.
Some secondary public interests were devised in order to promote it and to achieve its goals. Then, EU is engaged on delivering those solutions and it is doing so through its shared competences [Articles 2(2) and 4(2) of the TFEU].
On the matter, from early on the European institutions devised interoperability as the method to be implemented – as an ICT concept, “the European Interoperability Framework promotes and supports the delivery of European public services by fostering cross-border and cross-sectoral interoperability”, where judicial services are also included. This interoperability scheme was deepened under ISA2 Programme (Decision No. 2015/2044), standing for “the ability of disparate and diverse organizations to interact towards mutually beneficial and agreed common goals, involving the sharing of information and knowledge between organizations, through the business processes they support, by means of the exchange of data between their respective ICT systems” [Article 2(1) of the mentioned Decision].
Taking this method as a referral, both Member States and European institutions have to be able to interconnect their systems to promote data exchange. This definition entails three main dimensions: a technical, a semantic and an organisational interoperability since it addresses not only the electronic solutions that have to be achieved but it will also impact on the way the involved agents communicate and shape the organisations where they are included.
This method, firstly connected to e-Government, is also fit to meet other objective: the e-Justice paradigm that, in fact, is deeply connected to e-Government approaches as we were able to devise quite recently with the Futur-e-Justice Conference, held in Tallinn, on October 2017 and in the e-Government Action Plan, adopted in 2016. At the same time, new doctrinal and institutional approaches allow us to perceive interoperability as the method to also meet e-Justice paramount.
In fact, e-Justice was perceived as a key priority in e-Government Action Plan: for this purpose, its visible face would be the e-Justice portal which is acting as a “one-stop shop for information on European Justice and access to judicial procedures in the Member States”.
On Futur-e-Justice Conference, Věra Jourová, European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, understood a new political commitment was made, with the Ministerial Declaration on e-Government, to make Europe more sensitive to digitalization, particularly important to justice areas. The Commissioner also perceived e-Justice portal as vital to deepen this desire, sharing its numbers: it has three million and five hundred thousand visits per year.
On the matter, e-Justice was devised as a means to uphold better access to justice, particularly on cross-border litigations where the expenses can be actually diminished as the parties and the judicial operators can interact relying on electronic means.
The main issue is to understand how this method is going to be applied – on the matter, recent approaches allowed us to understand the path might be through e-CODEX. In order to do so, we have to understand this digital solution’s potential and importance.
In the Futur-e-Justice, the European Commissioner Věra Jourová made clear the path for the future e-Justice Action Plan (that is going to enter into force in 2019). It is going to be set on three approaches: 1) operating an “evaluation” because it is necessary to have “a very clear picture on how the e-Justice projects have been implemented and if the results are satisfactory”; 2) promoting “participation” of more Member-States or even all of them; and 3) proclaiming a “focus”, bearing particularly in mind “a number of e-Justice Projects of clear added value”.
Taking as a referral both “evaluation” and “focus” aims, Justice Projects have to be taken into account in order to understand if the future of e-Justice can rely on their previous efforts. The one that clearly stands out is e-CODEX – “e-Justice Communication via Online Data Exchange” with European funding until October 2018.
E-CODEX is an European project that developed some “technical solutions” that the consortium’s Member States can implement. These technical solutions – “interoperable building blocks” can be used on “real life setting through piloting work” – aim at deepening cross-border judicial cooperation since this dimension is “crucial to enable and stimulate the mobility of citizens and businesses”. Accordingly to e-CODEX facts & figures publication, we can understand this project wants to “improve the interoperability between authorities within the EU”.
In order to meet those “focus” and “evaluation” missions, the European Commission published an Inception Impact Assessment on cross-border e-Justice in Europe (e-CODEX). It wanted to understand a sustainable arrangement that could be used and reproduced across Europe to deepen interoperable solutions on judicial communication of proceedings and between judicial authorities. In fact, it presents e-CODEX as “an IT system for cross border judicial cooperation which allows users to send and receive documents, legal forms, evidence or other information in a secure manner”, by “interlinking national and European IT systems to one another”.
Furthermore, it is already a system that was used between several Member States to deal with the European Small Claims Procedure and the European Payment Order Procedure with particularly noted successful results.
In this Inception Impact Assessment, we can also devise a particular sensitivity to understand which is going to be the better way to keep e-CODEX results – since its funding is going to cease on October 2018.
Among other solutions, it seems to us the better is the one relying on eu-LISA to conduct its further implementation.
It is important to understand all stakeholders that presented their expectations were in favour of e-CODEX to become a tool applicable throughout the EU – as the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE), the European Chamber of Bailiffs (CEHJ), the European Law Institute (ELI) and the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary.
Since 2010, e-CODEX always was able to promote e-Justice goals and, on an economic perspective, it appears as a solution that can avoid Member States to spend significant amounts on reconfiguration / creation of new internal ICT systems.
However, in order to become as scalable as it is intended to, it is important to establish e-CODEX links in the e-Justice Portal; otherwise, its character of one-stop shop could be undermined. In fact, this portal is now becoming well-known by citizens, businesses and legal operators and it would undermine its efficacy if e-CODEX solutions would be allocated in other online direction.
E-CODEX appears as an adequate tool to meet e-Justice paradigm through interoperability method; however, it has to be thought in a way to promote further judicial integration. If it succeeds, it will only deepen our doctrinal approach that we are no longer living on a sole judicial cooperation but we are stepping in a new and improved judicial integration.
Picture credits: Untitled by Pxhere.
The author is part of the Jean Monnet Project “INTEROP – EU Digital Single Market as a political calling: interoperability as the way forward”.