The Household Mask – The Fundamental Right to the Access to Justice and to Online Court Sessions in times of COVID-19

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 by Marcílio Franca, Professor at Federal University of Paraíba (Brazil)
 and Inês Virgínia Prado Soares, Federal Judge (Brazil)

The application of contention measures and social isolation due to COVID-19 has caused a great impact on the operation of the whole justice system – in courtrooms, law firms etc. in the world and in Brazil alike. Brazil’s National Council of Justice (Conselho Nacional de Justiça – CNJ) has been working from home since March 12 as a way to administer justice during the most critical period of the pandemic. On March 26, The National Council of the Prosecution Office (Conselho Nacional do Ministério Público – CNMP) determined the uniformization of the measures to prevent Coronavirus at all branches of the Prosecution Office in Brazil, making remote work and conference calls mandatory.

In turn, Brazil’s highest Court, the Supreme Federal Court (Supremo Tribunal Federal – STF) published Resolution 672/2020 on March 27 to allow the use of conference calls on its trial sessions. Such document, as those issued by CNJ and CNMP, does not detail the formalities to be respected, which intuitively leads us to believe things must be done as they always have been, including themes such as language and the attire.
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Judicial independence in Poland and Hungary – Going, Going, Gone? Preliminary Requests and Disciplinary Procedures – A shocking development

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 by José Igreja Matos, President of the European Association of Judges

1. Stating the obvious

The reference for a preliminary ruling, provided for Article 19(3)(b) of the Treaty on European Union and Article 267 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union is an essential instrument for the European Union and, in particular, for national judges.

It is aimed to guarantee the uniform interpretation and application of EU law by offering to the courts and tribunals of Member States a procedure to acquire from the Court of Justice of the European Union a preliminary ruling concerning the interpretation of EU law or the validity of acts adopted by the institutions of the Union.

As easily predictable, the impact of a preliminary ruling procedure in EU legal system is immense also because the rulings of European Court of Justice (ECJ) are assumed as generally binding.

The ECJ itself does not have a power to enforce the accurate application of EU law; this is the reason why national courts or tribunals are obliged to bring the matters in question before the Court as frontrunners of the application of EU law.

The reference for a preliminary ruling is the only way for the national judges to directly convey with ECJ. This procedure helps the ECJ control on how the national courts apply EU law providing the uniformity and certainty essentials to the success of our Union.

Another aspect of major significance could be furthermore underlined: the preliminary ruling also ensures the protection of the rights of individuals. EU laws, in particular the criminal law, fall to be interpreted in accordance with the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The Article 6(1) of the Treaty of European Union affirms: “The Union recognises the rights, freedoms and principles set out in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union … which shall have the same legal value as the Treaties”. In general terms, the Charter applies to Member States when they implement Union law (Case C-292/97 Karlsson and Others); therefore, the interpretation of the Charter provisions tends to be, if not now, in the foreseeable future, a fertile ground for the use of the preliminary ruling procedures.

The Member States are bound to respect fundamental rights in judicial cooperation, for instance, if a Member State is extraditing someone to another Member State in accordance with the scheme established by the European Arrest Warrant Framework Decision.
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A short introduction to accountability in machine-learning algorithms under the GDPR

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 by Andreia Oliveira, Master in EU Law (UMINHO)
 and Fernando Silva, Consulting coordinator - Portuguese Data  Protection National Commission

Artificial Intelligence (AI) can be defined as computer systems designed to solve a wide range of activities, that are “normally considered to require knowledge, perception, reasoning, learning, understanding and similar cognitive abilities” [1]. Having intelligent machines capable of imitating human’s actions, performances and activities seems to be the most common illustration about AI. One needs to recognise AI as being convoluted – thus, machine learning, big data and other terms as automatization must hold a seat when discussing AI.  Machine learning, for example, is defined as the ability of computer systems to improve their performance without explicitly programmed instructions: a system will be able to learn independently without human intervention [2]. To do this, machine learning develops new algorithms, different from the ones that were previously programmed, and includes them as new inputs it has acquired during the previous interactions.

The capabilities of machine learning may put privacy and data protection in jeopardy. Therefore, ascertaining liability would be inevitable and would imply the consideration of inter alia all plausible actors that can be called upon account.

Under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the principle of accountability is intrinsically linked to the principle of transparency. Transparency empowers data subjects to hold data controllers and processors accountable and to exercise control over their personal data. Accountability requires transparency of processing operations, however transparency does not constitute accountability [3]. On the contrary, transparency acts as an accountability’ helper – e.g. helping to avoid barriers, such as opacity.
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e-Justice paradigm and Artificial Intelligence (AI): where effective judicial protection stands?

Artificial Intelligence Technology Futuristic

 by Joana Abreu, Editor

2019 marks the beginning of a new era for e-Justice.

Looking at both Council’s e-Justice Strategy (2019/C 96/04) and Action Plan (2019/C 96/05) from 2019 to 2023, we are able to understand how this European institution is engaged to establish sensitivities on Artificial Intelligence in justice fields. Furthermore, the European Commission also presented a report on the previous Action Plan (Evaluation study on the outcome of the e-Justice Action Plan 2014-2018 and the way forward – Final Report – DT4EU), where it advanced the need to bet on artificial intelligence mechanisms in the e-Justice fields.

In fact, the European Commission, when questioned stakeholders on the possibility of using Artificial Intelligence technologies in the domain of justice, 41% understood it should be used and other 41% understood its potentialities could be explored.

Taking into consideration those numbers, the Council also established the need to understand AI’s influence and potential on e-Justice fields, addressing it under the topic “Evolutivity” and relating to future perspectives.
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Editorial of December 2018

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 by Sergio Maia, Managing Editor

Multiannual financial framework, budgets and elections: is there room for convergence?

Current status of EU politics barely hides that convergence seems more and more dramatic, as the elections next May are rapidly approaching amidst uncertainty, Brexit and national populisms. Despite the signal Emmanuel Macron attempted to send recently by addressing the German Bundestag – the first French president to do so in 18 years – in favour of unity against chaos, there is little doubt that the moment is of euro-tension, somewhat of pre-storm. Italy is (literally) stepping on the European Commission’s budgetary recommendations; Brexit withdrawal agreement conclusion is an incognita on the British side (there is also the preliminary reference on its revocability under appreciation in CJEU); Steve Bannon is trying to fund extremist right-wing candidates for the European Parliament election; Poland is disguising its real commitment to implement CJEU interim measures; new migration rules are not settled, etc.

On top of that, there is an ongoing negotiation for the next multiannual financial framework (MFF) and in parallel proposals for a Eurozone specific budget as of 2021 – which was the underlying pretext for Macron’s speech at the Bundestag. The original idea of the French president was to equip the Eurozone with a separate budget to assist Member States experiencing instabilities in their economies. In other words, it would serve as a sort of debt mutualisation guarantee in critical times. This was only insidiously mentioned in the Meseberg Declaration, but it was mentioned nevertheless. The motivation for this tool was to provide an enhancement of the general balance between European economies so that the different levels of development in the EMU could be compensated for the benefit of Euro (stabilisation, prices) and trade flow in the internal market.
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Editorial of November 2018

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 by Alessandra Silveira, Editor


In the face of globalised populism, European Union as a kind of “life insurance”

In case C-619/18, Commission v Poland, pending judgment by the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ), the European Commission has requested the Court, in the context of interim proceedings, to order Poland to suspend the application of the provisions of national legislation relating to the lowering of the retirement age for Supreme Court judges,[i] among other measures.

As the ECJ Press Release No 159/18 briefly explains, on 3 April 2018 the new Polish Law on the Supreme Court entered into force. Under that Law, the retirement age for Supreme Court judges has been lowered to 65. The new age limit applies as of the date of entry into force of that Law. It is possible for Supreme Court judges to continue in active judicial service beyond the age of 65 but this is subject to the submission of a statement indicating the desire of the judge concerned to continue to perform his/her duties and a certificate stating that his/her health conditions allow him/her to serve, and must be consented to by the President of the Republic of Poland. Thus, according to the Law, serving Supreme Court judges who reached the age of 65 before that Law entered into force or, at the latest, on 3 July 2018, were required to retire on 4 July 2018, unless they had submitted such a statement and such a certificate by 3 May 2018 inclusive and the President of the Republic of Poland had granted them permission to continue in active service at the Supreme Court. In making his decision, the President of the Republic of Poland is not bound by any criteria and that decision is not subject to any form of judicial review. Furthermore, the Law on the Supreme Court gives the President of the Republic of Poland the power to freely decide, until 3 April 2019, to increase the number of Supreme Court judges.

As we know, the Vice-President of the Court, Ms Rosario de Lapuerta, on 19 October 2018, provisionally granted all the Commission’s requests – and Poland must immediately suspend the application of the new Polish Law on the Supreme Court.[ii] The legal basis of such ruling, relying upon judicial independence as a general principle of EU law and as a fundamental right protected in its order, has been built in the recent ECJ case-law, especially in judgments Associação Sindical dos Juízes Portugueses (ASJP) and LM[iii].
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LM judgment – effective judicial protection as general principle and fundamental right

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 by Joana Covelo de Abreu, Editor

2018 is the year when effective judicial protection undertakes several new developments.

In this sense, the Associação Sindical dos Juízes Portugueses’ judgment (ASJP) set the tone to great developments under effective judicial protection dimension concerning the independence of courts. In this decision, the Court of Justice understood effective judicial protection as not only a fundamental right, but also a general principle of EU law. In fact, the Court of Justice preferred to set this jurisprudence based on the general principle – as enshrined Article 19 (1) (2) TFEU – because that was the way to liberate effective judicial protection from the methodical difficulties brought by Article 51 CFREU.

In this decision, the Court of Justice reasoned based on Article 2 TEU (concerning the values of the EU), Article 4 (3) TEU (principle of sincere cooperation) and Article 19 (1) TEU, emphasising Article 19 (1) TEU as a “concrete expression to the value of the rule of law stated in Article 2 TEU” and acknowledging the integrated nature of the EU judiciary system – composed both by ECJ as EU organic court and national courts as EU functioning courts.

But when we thought the Court of Justice had already enough developed effective judicial protection, we are surprised with the LM judgment (case C-216/18 PPU).

This decision, issued on the July 25th 2018, was developed under a preliminary reference made in order to interpret the limits concerning the enforcement of three European Arrest Warrants. They aimed at arresting and surrendering LM to Polish authorities for the purpose of conducting criminal prosecutions (concerning trafficking in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances).
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Editorial of October 2018

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 by Vlad Jurje, PhD candidate and Lecturer at Universidad Rey Juan Carlos


Poland v. Fundamental Rights?

A new episode concerning to the Rule of Law in Poland has recently taken place and the European Commission is very concerned. After the recent reform of the National Council of the Judiciary[i], the Polish Parliament has the capacity to decide when to appoint the member judges that compose it. A fact that seriously undermines the norms and international standards on which the independence of the judicial power in Europe is regulated.

We also highlight the instability that has arisen from the reform of the Constitutional Court in Poland because the interference that the Executive and the Legislative branches have committed put at risk the independence of the judicial power. According to the new law which has come into force, out of the 72 current members that form part of the Supreme Court 27 could be forced to retire, since the retirement age was changed: instead of retiring at 70, the new law would remove men at 65 and women at 60.
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Editorial of July 2018

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 by Alessandra Silveira, Editor 
 and Sophie Perez Fernandes, Junior Editor


Artificial intelligence and fundamental rights: the problem of regulation aimed at avoiding algorithmic discrimination

The scandal involving Facebook and Cambridge Analytica (a private company for data analysis and strategic communication) raises, among others, the problem of regulating learning algorithms. And the problem lies above all in the fact that there is no necessary connection between intelligence and free will. Unlike human beings, algorithms do not have a will of their own, they serve the goals that are set for them. Though spectacular, artificial intelligence bears little resemblance to the mental processes of humans – as the Portuguese neuroscientist António Damásio, Professor at the University of Southern California, brilliantly explains[i]. To this extent, not all impacts of artificial intelligence are easily regulated or translated into legislation – and so traditional regulation might not work[ii].

In a study dedicated to explaining why data (including personal data) are at the basis of the Machine-Learning Revolution – and to what extent artificial intelligence is reconfiguring science, business, and politics – another Portuguese scientist, Pedro Domingos, Professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington, explains that the problem that defines the digital age is the following: how do we find each other? This applies to both producers and consumers – who need to establish a connection before any transaction happens –, but also to anyone looking for a job or a romantic partner. Computers allowed the existence of the Internet – and the Internet created a flood of data and the problem of limitless choice. Now, machine learning uses this infinity of data to help solve the limitless choice problem. Netflix may have 100,000 DVD titles in stock, but if customers cannot find the ones they like, they will end up choosing the hits; so, Netflix uses a learning algorithm that identifies customer tastes and recommends DVDs. Simple as that, explains the Author[iii].
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Editorial of January 2018

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by Sergio Maia, Managing Editor


The European Pillar of Social Rights has taken the first steps – and now how far will it make the Union walk?

One year after the end of the public consultation period of the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR) that preceded its formal presentation and adoption, it is an inviting, seemingly appropriate time to remark its concrete meanings and consequences. The EPSR and its political and legislative initiatives (such as the adoption of a clarification of the Working Time Directive or the proposals for a Directive on Work-Life Balance and for a Directive on Transparent and Predictable Working Conditions) have started to redesign the materialisation of the social model underlying the public reason of the Union. Those public reason and social model are embedded in Article 3(3), TEU; Article 9, Article 151, TFEU, just to name a few.

According to that set of rules, the Union is bound to full employment, social progress, the fight against exclusion, the promotion of social justice, social protection and cohesion. To sum up, in other words, there exists, I believe, a social democratization rationale behind the objectives of the integration to which the exercise and the enjoyment of citizenship rights and fundamental rights protection are directly associated. This social democratization drives (and must do so) the fulfilment of the economic freedoms as well as the rights enshrined in the CFREU. Without social democratization, the European citizenship and its fundamental rights are worth very little. The case-law of the CJEU in Dano, Alimanovic and Commission v. UK proves just that.

The two aforementioned spindles are in the core of the Union based on the rule of law as the fruition of those rights – i.e., social model – shapes the purposes of the public reason of the European polity. Then, how does the Pillar promote the European social model?

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