Borderless Justice – Creating a more just and secure Europe
Justice is borderless. Creating a more just and secure Europe is one of the priorities of the European Commission and inherent element on the way to achieve a true Single Market.
Effective access to justice should not be discouraged by complexity of legal systems in EU or accessibility of courts. Therefore, a number of measures have been established with the intention to help Europeans with cross-border litigations. Improving the cross-border access of citizens and businesses to legal means makes it possible for Europeans to exercise their rights on the European market. The use of ICT makes judicial procedures more transparent, efficient and economic. At the same time, it helps citizens, companies, administrations and legal practitioners to get facilitated access to justice. This means not only smoother access to information, but also the ability to process cross-border cases more easily and efficiently.
Cross-border civil justice
Free movement of goods, services, capital and people, resulting in development of cross-border relations, may lead to potential cases to be solved in a court of another EU country. This relates to cross-border commercial disputes, recovery of outstanding debts but also to business registries and seamless exchange of information on mergers.
- Leon’s IT company has developed specific software for an enterprise in another European country. The customer has not paid the bill and ignores all reminders.
- Ana orders a camera on an Austrian website and paid €1,800 in advance via bank transfer. The trader never delivers the camera and does not reimburse the purchase price.
- Marc made an online order from another European country and paid the bill in advance. Unfortunately the product sent is broken and the mail-order business refuses to replace or reimburse the costs.
- A company in Ireland transfers all its assets and liabilities to another company in Italy. At the end of the merger, the business register in Italy, in which the resulting company is registered, needs to inform the business register in Ireland, in which the dissolving company is registered, that the merger has taken effect.
Easy access to justice, on equal terms in all countries is needed to handle cross-border cases.
Addressing this challenge uniform European procedures – European Order for Payment and the European Small Claims Procedure has been established to facilitate efficient recovery of outstanding debts. The decisions issued in these procedures are recognised and enforced in another Member State without any special procedure being required according to Regulation (EU) no 1215/2012 (Brussels I Regulation). Subjects related to business mergers or splits which are getting more common in the expansion of national businesses over borders, have been addressed in Directive 2012/17/EU on interconnection of central, commercial and companies registers.
Cross-border criminal justice
A European dimension is often present in criminal matters. Unfortunately, a number of cross-border offences are often going unpunished due to their transnational nature. Dealing with crimes requires intensive collaboration between the criminal justice authorities of EU countries. This often includes exchange of information, including sensitive data, where a fast, reliable and secure channel for data transfer is required. Strengthening judicial cooperation is crucial for effective handling of cross-border criminal cases as well as fostering European’s confidence in a high level of security throughout the Union.
There are different areas of judicial cooperation in the EU:
- Mutual Legal Assistance for the purpose of gathering and exchanging information.
- European Arrest Warrant for the purpose of arresting a person in another country and surrender for prosecution, or to execute a custodial sentence or detention order.
- Mutual Recognition of Financial Penalties to transmit a financial penalty directly to an authority in another EU country and to have that penalty recognised and executed without any further formality.
- Mutual recognition of custodial sentences and measures involving deprivation of liberty for transferring convicted prisoners back to their EU country of nationality, habitual residence or another EU country with which they have close ties.
On the way to e-Justice –the e-CODEX project
In an increasingly digital society, judicial cooperation relies on e-Justice to facilitate the interaction between different national and European actors in legal procedures. At a time when the physical barriers between countries in the European Union have been removed, the digital era poses new cross-border challenges: Challenges related to different standards, different protocols, the cross-border recognition of identities, mandates, electronic signatures, and so forth.
The e-CODEX project has contributed to improvements of the cross-border access to legal means for citizens and businesses in Europe and facilitated the interoperability between legal authorities within the EU. It has built a general-purpose e-Delivery system and has, in the context of those activities, developed “national connectors” to link the national transport infrastructures to the pan-European layer. As a result, a number of real-live e-Justice services has been launched within civil and criminal justice, providing Europeans possibility to execute their rights and improving cross-border cooperation between judicial authorities.
Following successful completion of e-CODEX in May 2016, the Me-CODEX project has been appointed with a task to maintain the existing developments. The objective of Me-CODEX is the update, support, and further testing of the e-CODEX building blocks for usage by any Member State. Furthermore, Me-CODEX has been tasked with a mission to produce a holistic sustainability and governance model, which will ensure daily maintenance of the technical developments in the long term. This should not only provide support to the EU Member States which deployed the project solutions but also make them easily accessible for interested parties, thus ensuring further take up. Me-CODEX is devoted to continue the efforts for seamless e-Justice services, bringing further value for European citizens and businesses.
e-Justice portal – a one stop shop for e-Justice
European e-Justice Portal is a single, multilingual, user-friendly access point to the entire European e-justice system. It assists citizens, businesses, lawyers and judges with cross-border legal questions and boosts mutual understanding of different legal systems by contributing to the creation of a single European area of justice. The portal provides information and links on laws and practices in all EU countries. In line with the Council Action Plan 2014-2018, the information and functionalities are being continuously added as the portal develops. E-CODEX solutions are integrated to the portal contributing to making it a one stop shop for e-Justice. Soon citizens and businesses will have the possibility to apply for cross-border European orders for payment and Small claims electronically and receive communication from the courts online via e-Justice portal. Connecting of existing national e-Justice systems to the portal with e-CODEX solutions will allow communication and data exchange based on the development of common technical standards.
Easy access to cross-border justice for professionals, citizens and businesses
In order to improve access to justice in a cross-border context a common procedural rules are in place, making the proceeding simpler. Another tool for simplifying judicial cooperation in civil matters consists of the development and the use of information and communication technologies in the administration of justice. The e‐CODEX project enabled professionals, citizens and businesses easy access to European justice through a secure ICT‐solution for cross‐border communication of sensitive data in the Judiciary. The pilot services launched, support use cases in the e-Justice area ranging from asserting a claim against somebody in another country (Member State or Associated Country), to exchange sensitive data between legal authorities in cross-border cases.
After successful completion of the e-CODEX project the continuity of the e-Justice services that are already live is ensure by its successor – the Me-CODEX project. This provides unique opportunity for legal practitioners, citizens and businesses to get online access to European justice.
European Order of Payment
Recovering outstanding debts in cross-border claim can be difficult for many citizens and businesses in many European Member States. The EU Regulation no 1896/2006 provides the legal framework allowing the creation of a European Order for Payment (EPO). The e-CODEX’s EPO pilot offers the opportunity to easily do so at any time. By using the European e-Justice Portal with the technical solutions provided by e-CODEX, the recovery of outstanding debts can easily be handled online. All relevant forms for citizens and business representatives are available on the Portal and can be sent and received via a personal inbox. By using this procedure, every party involved benefits from reduced expenditure of time and money and increased security in the exchange. The online forms are easy to fill in and result in fewer errors.
More about the European Payment Order
Once a cross-border claim arises, it may be necessary to take legal actions in another country. This can be a long and cumbersome process. The European Small Claims Procedure simplifies and speeds up European litigation. The procedure has been established by the Regulation (EC) No 861/2007 of the European Parliament and the Council of 11 July 2007 as an alternative to those existing under the laws of the Member States. It can be used for most cross-border claims of a civil and commercial nature with value up to €2000. e-CODEX’s Small Claims pilot offers the opportunity to put a claim in a faster and easier way. By using national portals based on the e-CODEX solutions, the claim can be taken to court in another Member State online. On the one hand this saves time and money by dealing with the claim from the computer; and on the other hand, the transmission of sensitive data happens in a more secure way. Beyond that, the standardised forms can be displayed in each actor’s native language and hence induce fewer errors.
Interconnection of Business Registers
The economy is expanding over national and European borders. Because the reorganisation of multinational companies, including mergers or splits, always concerns several Member States, cooperation and interconnection of the national business registers is an absolute necessity. A first step in interconnecting the business registers is being piloted within the e-CODEX project. The pilot procedures are being supported by the latest developments at European level, which resulted in the acceptance of the policy 2012/17/ EU. In amendment of the directive 89/666/EWG of the Council as well as the directives 2005/56/EG and 2009/101/EG this pilot strives for the interconnection of the national business registers by 2016.
Mutual Legal Assistance
An essential element of effective cross-border cooperation is the possibility of quick and secure data exchange between national prosecuting authorities. Requests for legal assistance (currently up to 5000 per year), follow-up correspondence and enquiries for information are still sent by traditional means, i.e. by post or fax. This can result in mail delivery times of several days. In the e-CODEX pilot, the process moves from a purely paper based system to a high-speed digital exchange.
In May 2000 the European Council adopted an Act establishing Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters between the Member States. Later the Framework Decisions 2003/577/JHA and 2008/978/JHA were adopted. The next step in cross border cooperation between judicial authorities will be the European Investigation Order (EIO), established through Directive 2014/41/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 3 April 2014, which will enter into force on 22 May 2017.
The MLA pilot is now live in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands enabling secure data exchange between judicial authorities on request for legal assistance on criminal matters.
Mutual Recognition of Financial Penalties
When cars from one EU country drive too fast in another EU country, it often goes unpunished because it is too cumbersome to collect the related fines across borders. For instance, about 1.5 million fines are sent annually by France to foreign EU drivers, but less than 70% of them are paid. Of course this results in lost income for the countries, but most importantly, it does not give the car drivers an incentive to change their behaviour.
Thanks to e-CODEX and Directive 2011/82/EU on the exchange of car and driving license registration information across Europe financial penalties can be executed easily across borders through digital communication between the competent authorities. The authority having received a fine from another country concerning one of its residents can pursue the execution of the fine.
With e-CODEX, thousands of fines can be sent weekly, almost just by pushing a button, signed with a digital signature and with all the required documents attached. While the authority sending the fine to another country contributes to raising the security on the national roads, the receiving authority can keep the money it collects from cross-border traffic fines.
Framework Decision 909 on mutual recognition of custodial sentences
EC Framework Decision 909 from 2008 (FD909) deals with the principle of mutual recognition of judgments in criminal matters imposing custodial sentences or measures involving deprivation of liberty for the purpose of their enforcement in the European Union. The main goal of FD909, as stated clearly in Article 3, "is to establish the rules under which a Member State, with a view to facilitating the social rehabilitation of the sentenced person, is to recognise a judgment and enforce the sentence".
Belgium and the Netherlands have launched a use case dealing with the transfer of prisoners under FD 909For FD909 procedure and are now connected to e-CODEX with different national backend applications. Belgium uses SIDES, the national jail management solution, to process certificates and related information. The Dutch legal authorities uses their national solution for international legal assistance, Luris.