Dr. Barbara Mayer, Fachanwältin für Handels- und Gesellschaftsrechtjan barth gesellschaftsrecht a.jpg

The European Commission presents the Fourth EU Justice Scoreboard

On April 11, the European Commission in Brussels presented the EU Justice Scoreboard 2016. The study provides a comparative overview of justice systems in the EU member states, revealing significant differences among them. This underlines the importance of choice of law and jurisdiction agreements in cross-border legal transactions.

Main contents of the study

The Justice Scoreboard is based on three essential parameters: efficiency, quality and independence. The indicators for efficiency are primarily the number of pending cases, the length of proceedings and the clearance rate. In order to assess the quality of justice, the study looks at the budget and human resources of the courts and investigates the (further) training of judges as well as which quality control measures are used by the courts and how easy it is for citizens and companies to access legal protection. In order to evaluate judicial independence, the measures taken by the member states to ensure judicial independence are investigated along with the perceptions of judicial independence among citizens and companies.

Overall, moderate improvements with regard to judicial efficiency can be seen on a European average, while the significant improvements in a few member states compensate for modest degradations in the majority of states. For example, there is a great difference with regard to the length of first-instance civil cases: while courts in the quicker member states need three months on average to reach a ruling, it takes over a year and a half on average in Slovakia, Italy or Malta. Significant differences exist with regard to corrective measures for preventing such lengthy cases and case backlogs. While some member states have consistently worked through their backlogs in recent years, new filings are threatening to pile up in France, Cyprus and, especially, Greece: there, fewer cases are settled in total than new entries are registered.

Differences are also found in the integration of the internet into process proceedings. While submitting a claim online is just as standard in a few member states as online provision of judgments, services of this kind are completely lacking in other justice systems.

In terms of public perception of judicial independence, significant differences can be seen. While nearly 90% of the Danish citizens believe their judges to be independent, not even 20% of the Italians, Bulgarians and Slovakians believe the same of their judges. The fears of influence by politics and the government are most often cited as a reason for distrust.

The German justice system in the upper midfield

In Europe-wide comparison, the German courts fared well. Needs for improvement exist primarily in the integration of the internet into the judicial process: online submission of claims and electronic court documents are just as remote in Germany as the publication of complete rulings in online databases.
Regarding the use of alternative methods of dispute resolution, German courts rank number one in Europe. 70% of German citizens, as well as 70% of German companies, believe that German courts are independent. The situation with regard to further training and electronic data processing is less satisfactory: further training on European law is not commonplace among German judges. The same is true for the use of electronic data processing in the courtroom.

Conclusion: Winners and losers

Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, Austria and also Germany stand out in the study with comparatively efficiently working courts that are trusted by citizens and companies. In the field of electronic data processing, Germany may soon catch up: with the 2013 law to promote electronic legal transactions with courts, the German legislature has decreed for its courts to adopt electronic communication as of 1 January 2018. The success of this legislation will be measured by the Justice Scoreboard in the years to come.

In conclusion, it must be said that careful consideration is needed in international legal transactions – even within the EU – with regard to which court should have jurisdiction over a dispute. Options for choice of law should be carefully considered during the formation of a contract and appropriate jurisdiction agreements should be made. This can prevent lengthy and expensive proceedings, especially in legal transactions with Italy, Greece, Bulgaria and Slovakia.

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