6 October, the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice(CEPEJ) publishes Report No 23 on judicial system in 45 European countries and one CEPEJ observer state (Israel). 2016 edition is created using 2014 data.

CEPEJ reports are published every two years. They present a vast amount of data and statistics to describe trends of judicial systems (judicial budget and organization, deadlines of proceedings, the number of judges and prosecutors, etc.).

This year's Report reflects the total increase in budget allocated to judicial systems. However, it is concluded that some countries that are more severely affected by economic crisis still have retained budget cuts (Spain, Greece, Ireland, and Portugal). Other countries (Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, and Slovenia) have started or still continue to recover from the crisis by increasing the budget.

At the same time court clients pay more and more to finance the judicial system. In more than a quarter of the countries it manifests in the form of taxes and fees, covering more than 20% of the costs of the judicial system (22% in Latvia). Taxpayer is not the only one who supports the system, the client also owns financial contribution (exceptions are France and Luxembourg, where there is free access to the court, as well as Austria, where the judicial system is financed entirely by its clients). Looking at the specific data of the judicial system’s self-financing, the court clients in Latvia bear the cost of 33%, in Estonia 36%, in Lithuania 12%.

In general, countries have a stable number of judges: there are on average 21 judges per 100,000 inhabitants. However, in Central and Eastern Europe there are on average more judges than in Western Europe. In these countries there is generally only professional judges' corps, in the absence of lay judges association (which is an essential feature in the Anglo-Saxon judicial system and in Northern Europe).

Data on the proportion of male and female judges usually gets wide publicity in the European legal media. The highest and the lowest proportion of female judges in Europe:

Slovenia 78%

Latvia 77%

Romania 74%

Azerbaijan 11%

Armenia 23%

Northern Ireland and Scotland 23%

The latest report concludes that number of criminal cases received by the courts increases.

Institutional regulation of Public Prosecutor's Office varies by country, especially as regards the executive power. It is found that the highest workload of prosecutors is in France, Austria, Ireland and Italy. In Central and Eastern Europe there is explicitly large number of prosecutors in contrast to relatively small number of cases (Ukraine, Russia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Montenegro, Slovakia and Poland).

The organization of judicial areas is highly varied. In 2014, 28 countries indicated that they were carrying out judicial reform to increase the efficiency of judicial work: by developing new technologies, adopting to demographic changes and improving management of court premises and property. Overall, the number of courts in Europe decreases with increase in their size and specialization.

In 12 countries the number of courts is low: less than one court per 100,000 inhabitants. Half of the countries have less than 1.4 first instance courts per 100,000 inhabitants. Only in two countries the number of courts is substantially greater: 5 - Portugal, 6.5 - Russia. However, these figures should be regarded in the context of the geographical placement of courthouses in a particular territory, as well as in context of their size. Some countries choose to concentrate the judicial system and to maintain a small number of high courts, while others prefer smaller courts throughout the country. It should be noted that some countries have combined a number of courts (legal entities) in the same building - Austria, France, Russia. In other countries, one court (legal entity) is located at multiple addresses - in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Switzerland. A specific example is Ireland, where there are four courts of first instance, which are situated in more than 90 different locations.

It is reported that judicial reforms do not always provide the expected savings and are not always carried out in full consultation with the representatives of courts. Reforms are always a challenge for ensuring court coverage in country and client access to court.

In general, alternative dispute resolution methods are favored in Europe. The report advises to pay more attention to how this fact affects the overall court workload as well as to means for financing these measures.

This year's report is accompanied by a new thematic review on the use of information technology (IT) in courts.

Latvia is listed as one of the countries where the IT system generally is very well developed and a number of innovations are introduced: submission of applications via e-mail is initiated within the framework of pilot projects (along with the Czech Republic, Finland and Serbia). As well as persons with low income can apply online for state guaranteed legal aid to cover court fees (such option is available in one fourth of Member States: Austria, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and Ukraine). However, the authors of the report draw attention to the fact that high development of IT systems does not provide a direct link with the increase of judicial efficiency: this is an important but not decisive factor. It is noted that in many countries (including Latvia) actual provision of IT systems in courts does not mean that it is systematically adjusted to the procedural laws. It is established that in many European countries online procedures are being increasingly developed in order to maintain case files and to hear cases of certain categories.

 

All CEPEJ reports and reviews are available in English on CEPEJ webpage:

http://www.coe.int/t/dghl/cooperation/cepej/default_en.asp

 

Information prepared by

Dace Sulmane, Adviser to the Council for the Judiciary

Dace.sulmane@at.gov.lv, +371 67020352