- Digitalisation to cut costs, reduce delays and ensure cooperation in all circumstances
- Electronic communication enabled by a decentralised EU-level system with national access points
- Common EU framework to overcome varying levels of digitalisation
In a joint vote, the JURI and LIBE committees backed a legislative package on the digitalisation of judicial cooperation in the EU.
Cross-border judicial cases in the EU will benefit from a new communication framework using digital technology. MEPs of Legal Affairs Committee (JURI) and the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) supported the European Commission´s proposal for a regulation and a directive on digitalisation of cross-border judicial cooperation in civil, commercial and criminal cases. The regulation was adopted with 78 votes against 0 and 2 abstentions, and the directive with 79 votes against 0 and 1 abstention. MEPs also voted in favour of starting negotiations with the member states on the final form of the legislation.
Decentralised IT system
The proposed laws would modernise access to justice in the EU by providing a framework for the use of electronic documents and exchange of information, videoconferencing and electronic payment of fees. This would reduce delays and costs, improve access to justice and ensure the effective protection of rights. In practice, a decentralised IT system, created and maintained by the Commission, would enable communication between citizens and companies and national authorities across the EU. It would have access points in each member state based on the existing e-CODEX system and its development and maintenance would mainly be financed through the Digital Europe Programme.
Avoid digital exclusion and ensure access for vulnerable citizens
MEPs suggest that the system should enable exchange of information between member states and EU bodies such as Eurojust and that it informs individuals and companies about their rights in cross-border cases. They also insist that the digitalisation must be implemented in a way to avoid exclusion based on the level of the digital skills and to ensure the right to a fair trial. MEPs emphasize the importance of training for judicial officers as well as for other competent authorities on the use of decentralised IT system and videoconferencing. MEPs also want to ensure that disabled people are guaranteed equivalent access to the system, and that vulnerable people are protected by sending notifications to custodians or caregivers before they are heard through videoconferencing.
Following the vote, JURI Co-rapporteur Emil Radev (EPP, BG) noted: “With the adoption of this regulation, the electronic means of communication between natural and legal persons and competent authorities will become an important part of cross-border cases. The decentralized IT system will become the main method of communication between Member States' courts. Moreover, the new provisions will make it easier for parties in cross-border civil and criminal proceedings to participate in oral hearings via video conferencing. This, in turn, will reduce the price and facilitate the access to justice.”
LIBE Co-rapporteur Marina Kaljurand (S&D, EE) said: ”Digitalisation can bring tangible benefits to our citizens in cross-border judicial cases, as electronic communication with judicial authorities and hearings through videoconference will improve timely access to justice. At the same time, it is crucial that the necessary safeguards are put in place. Accessibility of electronic communication channels to persons with a disability has to be guaranteed so that our citizens will have equal opportunities. Moreover, in order for a person to be heard via videoconference in criminal proceedings, they should first be adequately informed before they decide on their consent, and any consent should always be given voluntarily and be verified by the authorities. Lack of basic technical equipment should never be a reason for authorities to refuse a hearing via videoconference.”
The European Commission proposed this legislation in December 2021. In reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, the proposed regulation aims to ensure access to justice in cross-border cases in the EU including in the events of force majeure and make sure member states´ judicial cooperation is maintained and sufficiently resilient in such situations. Related directive should reflect the changes introduced by the regulation on the use of digital technology into other legal acts to ensure legal certainty. The package also seeks to reduce disparities in digitalisation between member states to ensure that all EU citizens can benefit from effective access to justice.
Once the mandate is confirmed by the plenary, the European Parliament can enter into negotiations with the member states over the final text of the regulation and directive.
Martina VASSPress Officer
Janne OJAMOPress Officer