Jus­tice sys­tems be­com­ing more ef­fi­cient in EU

Malta Independent - - DEBATE & ANALYSIS -

The aim of the re­port is to help im­prove the ef­fec­tive­ness of the jus­tice sys­tem in each and every Mem­ber State. There are three main el­e­ments which con­trib­ute to­wards an ef­fec­tive jus­tice sys­tem: ef­fi­ciency, in­de­pen­dence and qual­ity. The Score­board fo­cuses on all three el­e­ments. The ef­fec­tive­ness of na­tional jus­tice sys­tems, in par­tic­u­lar, greatly sup­ports eco­nomic growth and re­spect for fun­da­men­tal rights. For this rea­son, it is also an in­te­gral part of the European Se­mes­ter - the EU’s an­nual cy­cle of eco­nomic pol­icy co­or­di­na­tion.

This year’s score­board makes var­i­ous key find­ings, gen­er­ally pos­i­tive, which point to­wards more ef­fi­cient jus­tice sys­tems across the ma­jor­ity of Mem­ber States. The re­port also ex­am­ines new as­pects which were not cov­ered pre­vi­ously such as con­sumer ac­cess to the jus­tice sys­tem, ju­di­cial in­de­pen­dence and the use of ICT to help strengthen the ef­fi­ciency of the jus­tice sys­tem.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, in gen­eral there has been a de­crease in the du­ra­tion of civil and com­mer­cial court pro­ceed­ings across Mem­ber States. The re­port shows that in Malta, the du­ra­tion of court cases in 2015 de­creased to ap­prox­i­mately 400 days when com­pared to ap­prox­i­mately 800 days in 2010. Malta fares well in terms of the num­ber of civil, com­mer­cial, administrative and other cases be­ing re­solved, with a rate of 110% of cases be­ing re­solved in 2015. More­over, since Malta’s rate goes over the 100% mark, this means that more cases are be­ing re­solved than be­ing filed in court.

On con­sumer pro­tec­tion, the re­port also found that the length of administrative pro­ceed­ings and ju­di­cial re­view varies between Mem­ber States and that many con­sumer is­sues are be­ing solved di­rectly by con­sumer au­thor­i­ties. In fact, Malta records a short av­er­age length of administrative de­ci­sions by con­sumer pro­tec­tion au­thor­i­ties, namely the Malta Com­pe­ti­tion and Con­sumer Af­fairs Au­thor­ity (MCCAA).

How­ever, the re­port also states that in some Mem­ber States, cit­i­zens who do not have suf­fi­cient fi­nan­cial means find it dif­fi­cult to ac­cess le­gal aid when fac­ing cer­tain disputes. Most Mem­ber States grant le­gal aid on the ba­sis of the ap­pli­cant’s in­come and the Euro­stat poverty thresh­old. In most Mem­ber States, le­gal aid is only pro­vided if the ap­pli­cant’s in­come does not fall below the poverty thresh­old. In Ger­many and Spain, for ex­am­ple, par­tial le­gal aid is pro­vided to ap­pli­cants who do not fall below the poverty line. In Malta, full le­gal aid is pro­vided to ap­pli­cants whose in­come is at most 10% below the thresh­old. Hun­gary pro­vides both full and par­tial le­gal aid to those whose in­come is 30% below the thresh­old.

ICT tools have also proven to be lim­ited in a ma­jor­ity of Mem­ber States, with only six states mak­ing use of ICT tech­nol­ogy in all stages of court pro­ceed­ings. Malta lags in this re­spect as the use of ICT is lim­ited to the sub­mis­sion of cases and to the trans­mis­sion of sum­mons. How­ever, ICT tools are also be­ing used fre­quently in Mal­tese Courts to mon­i­tor the stages of pro­ceed­ings.

The re­port also looks at the pub­lic’s per­cep­tion of ju­di­cial in­de­pen­dence. There has been a gen­eral im­prove­ment in this re­spect in most Mem­ber States, in­clud­ing Malta. One finds that many con­sider in­ter­fer­ence or pres­sure from govern­ment and politi­cians among the rea­sons for the per­ceived lack of in­de­pen­dence of courts and judges. Other rea­sons in­clude pres­sures ex­erted by eco­nomic in­ter­ests, as well as fears that judges do not al­ways act fully in­de­pen­dently. This fear is usu­ally at­trib­uted to a sta­tus or po­si­tion which a judge might have held be­fore his or her ju­di­cial ap­point­ment.

Some find­ings on jus­tice sys­tems in the Mem­ber States have al­ready been in­cluded in a num­ber of the coun­try re­ports pub­lished by the Com­mis­sion in Fe­bru­ary, in­clud­ing Malta’s. On the ju­di­cial sys­tem, Malta’s re­port high­lights the pro­posed in­tro­duc­tion of new mea­sures on sec­ond chance and in­sol­vency, im­prove­ments in the ef­fi­ciency of the ju­di­cial sys­tem and the im­ple­men­ta­tion of ju­di­cial re­forms aimed at im­prov­ing the sys­tem of the ap­point­ment of judges and rem­e­dy­ing “the per­sist­ing short­com­ings of the ju­di­ciary, in par­tic­u­lar lengthy pro­ce­dures and back­logs”.

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