Alessandra Silveira, Joana Covelo de Abreu and Pedro Madeira Froufe (eUjust Jean Monnet Module Members - https://eujust.direito.uminho.pt).
Brief insights on e-Justice paradigm and the de facto digitalization of justice in the European Union – answers for the plural crisis (the endemic and the pandemic)?
e-Justice is a paradigm that has been strengthened since the adoption of the latter Council’s e-Justice Action Plan and Strategy for the period of 2019-2023, where digital platforms and technological instruments are perceived as the way to further deepen reciprocal trust in the EU administration of justice (following previous arrangements made under e-Justice Action Plan 2014-2018).
However, as the Commission points out, the “[e]xperience with the COVID-19 crisis shows the need for justice systems [to] function under challenging circumstances” since, insofar, “[e]ffective access to justice in the EU is hampered by paper exchanges and the need to be physically present” and it needs to be scalable to a new development environment as “[d]igital technologies have the potential to make justice systems more accessible and efficient”.
In order to sediment a set of measures “to boost digitalisation in justice systems across the EU”, the Commission launched an initiative under the theme “digitalisation of justice in the EU”, publishing a Roadmap in July 2020, which was open to feedback between 30th July 2020 and 24th September 2020.
A Roadmap is a way to “inform citizens and stakeholders about the Commission’s work in order to allow them to provide feedback and to participate effectively in the future consultation activities”, aiming at congregating all sensitivities on the topic in hands. This Roadmap may conduct to the adoption, by the European Commission, of a Communication entitled “Digitalisation of justice in the European Union”, predicted to the last quarter of 2020. Notwithstanding, when we are preparing this Editorial, only the feedback results are available[i].
This path was taken under a specific context: “Independence, quality and efficiency of justice are essential for effective justice systems in the European Union” but “judicial proceedings – in particular in cross-border situations – still take place mostly on paper and are based on traditional transmission channels” which “does not provide a modern access to justice in an environment that is more and more digitalised and it is detrimental for citizens and businesses”. This need was highlighted by the COVID-19 crisis.
Digitalisation of justice is perceived as a relevant objective “to pursue as part of a new push for European democracy and in line with the political priority of a Europe fit for the digital age” and, furthermore, following Commission’s Communication of 27th May 2020 “Europe’s moment: Repair and Prepare for the Next Generation” [COM(2020) 456 final], it “can improve access to justice and the operation of the business environment”. In this sense, Commission is trying to, in a participative way, answer the calling set by the Council, on 9th June 2020 (in its Conclusions on shaping Europe’s digital future), so digital cross-border exchanges can be facilitated between Member States both in criminal and civil matters. This perception will also impact in a holistic perception of judicial cooperation (more and more relatable with an effective judicial integration), as addressed in the Legislative Train Schedule of the European Parliament, under the topic “A new push for European democracy – digitalisation of judicial cooperation”[ii] since there is a political aim to tackle this topic despite being used on civil or criminal matters.
Commission is setting the tone, as this European institution aims, with the roadmap, to i) “seize the opportunities offered by digital technologies in view of providing seamless access to justice and enabling efficient cross-border judicial cooperation”; ii) “steer and co-ordinate a process at EU level to accelerate the digitalisation of judicial procedures”; iii) “foster interoperability of different national systems”; and iv) “uptake of new technologies in the day-to-day functioning of justice systems”, departing from cross-border cases and from previous data collected under the EU Justice Scoreboard.
In the end, the Communication would aim at proposing a “toolbox approach” to potentiate greater digitalisation to set in motion a reflexive process towards the establishment of a legislative framework where “comprehensive IT solutions” should be approached and new technologies could be perceived in a fresh perspective “allowing combination and re-use of different IT solutions”.
Notwithstanding, one of the most preeminent features of this roadmap is when it relates – in a literal way – e-Justice efforts (= efforts on digitalisation of justice) as also allowing national authorities and EU institutions, agencies and bodies digital interaction.
In fact, the most innovative feature of the Jean Monnet Module eUjust was how the team provided an approach to e-Justice paradigm departing from a wider conception of EU Procedural institutional structure and mechanisms, where both the ECJ and national courts were perceived as European courts and, insofar, procedural solutions running before those courts, when applying EU law, should also be perceived as European and, in this also, being also impacted by a new digital approach. In this sense, eCuria – the platform running before the ECJ – was the vivification of this doctrinal idea and, with this roadmap and the way EU public policy is hopefully be conducted, may showcase, in paradigmatic terms, what was doctrinally addressed by the team.
In fact, only an holistic approach on e-Justice – producing its effects on judicial cooperation (both in civil and criminal matters) and in the interactions between national courts and between these and the ECJ – can provide an expedite solution for the times to come, particularly before a crisis scenario that menaces a Union of law (by both endemic and pandemic threats).
[i] See, for further development, European Commission, Law – Digitalisation of justice in the EU, “About the initiative”, in https://ec.europa.eu/info/law/better-regulation/have-your-say/initiatives/12547-Digitalisation-of-justice-in-the-European-Union- [access: 28.11.2020].
[ii] See, for further development, European Parliament, Legislative Train schedule, “A new push for European democracy – digitalization of judicial cooperation”, in https://www.europarl.europa.eu/legislative-train/theme-a-new-push-for-european-democracy/file-digitalisation-of-judicial-cooperation [access: 28.11.2020].
Pictures credits: Mohamed Hassan.