Brussels (Brussels Morning) The digitalisation of EU justice systems has gained further momentum as a result of today’s launch by the European Commission of a public consultation.
The Commission wants to support member states by modernising their justice systems through digital transition and to improve EU cross-border judicial cooperation.
In particular, the outcome of taking this public sounding will feed into the initiative on digitalisation of cross-border judicial cooperation that is expected to occur at the end of this year, in keeping with the 2021 Commission’s Work Programme.
Although considered a pressing need for some time now, it is the coronavirus pandemic that has accelerated the push for the digitalisation of judiciary systems. “The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the importance of digitalisation, including in the field of justice. Judges and lawyers need digital tools to be able to work together faster and more efficiently”, Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders declared.
Not just legal systems, but people and businesses in general stood to benefit, he said, noting that online tools would ensure easier and more transparent access to justice at a lower cost.
However, modernisation of the EU’s legal systems should be closely monitored too, some participants at today’s event cautioned. “I am convinced that, on this issue, ultimately, the stumbling block is not so much the nature of such digitalisation, but control and access to it”, Georgios Rouskas, President of the Council of the Notaries of the European Union, advised.
Rouskas also cited the pressing need to address questions about the rapid digitalisation of notary services, including how the EU would go about ensuring the protection of sensitive data and the judiciary’s independence in its use of IT systems.
Salla Saastamoinen, acting director-general for the Commission’s division in charge of justice and consumer issues, said digitalisation of public and restricted access databases would contribute to greater transparency, ease of access and foster trust in the internal market. However, it would also imply greater cybersecurity risks, a trend already witnessed during the COVID pandemic.
In October 2020, the Council encouraged member states to make increased use of digital tools throughout judicial proceedings and called on the Commission to develop a comprehensive EU strategy on the digitalisation of justice by the end of 2020.
In December 2020, the Commission adopted a communication outlining the actions and initiatives intended to advance the digitalisation of justice systems across the EU.
The Commission’s current consultation seeks to gather views on the digitalisation of EU cross-border civil, commercial and criminal procedures. It will remain open until 8 May.