In the framework of the celebration of its 60th anniversary (1960-2020), the CCBE organised on 27 October an online roundtable entitled “Europe’s approach to e-Justice: How can the EU ensure that the digitalisation of justice reinforces, rather than undermines, access to justice?”.
After a welcome speech of the CCBE President, Ranko Pelicarić, the first session was focused on the issue of digitalisation and access to justice. This session included a statement by Christine Lambrecht, German Federal Minister of Justice and Consumer, and interventions by Didier Reynders, European Commissioner for Justice an Consumers, as well as Jiří Novák, Chair of the CCBE IT Law Committee.
The second session was devoted to the use of innovative technologies in justice and included interventions from Juan Fernando López Aguilar, Chair of the European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, James MacGuill, CCBE Vice-President, and Dory Reiling, IT and judicial reform expert, retired Senior Judge of the Amsterdam District Court.
This high-level event proved to be very successful with 150 participants including representatives of EU institutions, the Council of Europe, the EU Agency of Fundamental Rights, national Ministries as well as representatives of Bars/Law Societies and lawyers.
The roundtable highlighted the following main aspects:
- There is a need for a structural dialogue and collaboration among all justice stakeholders, such as EU institutions and agencies, national Ministries of Justice, judges, councils of the judiciary, court staff, and especially legal practitioners such as lawyers. Instead of working in silos, all relevant actors must engage, exchange information and collaborate to make sure that the digital transformation of justice remains aligned with the real needs and obligations of judicial actors and court users.
- This point is particularly important when looking at the future governance of e-CODEX. e-CODEX is unique in the sense that it offers a European digital infrastructure for secure cross-border communications in the field of justice. Although at this moment e-CODEX only supports a limited number of use-cases in civil and criminal proceedings, it is intended to become a general platform providing an electronic access to cross-border justice for all European citizens, businesses and legal professionals. It is therefore very important that all stakeholders, including the CCBE as the representative organisation of more than one million lawyers, remain fully and structurally involved at policy and implementation level in the future management of e-CODEX.
- Moreover, when it comes to the use of AI and other novel technologies in justice, such interaction is crucial to ensure that, as much as possible, the ethical values that guide courts and legal practitioners are designed into the AI systems themselves. It is not sufficient to merely rely on trust in the expertise of IT specialists.
- Continuous care needs to be taken that the digitalisation of justice does not undermine the laws which govern citizens and justice actors in the real world. We therefore see a need for EU-wide minimum standards to ensure adherence to the basic principles of any judicial proceedings, such as procedural fairness and due process, transparency, impartiality and lawfulness.
- One must remain vigilant that digitalisation efforts remain focused on improving the quality of our justice systems and are not only introduced for achieving efficiency gains or cost savings. Increasing access to justice by simplifying judicial proceedings and reducing costs may sound like a desirable outcome, however, there is little value in increasing access to justice if the quality of justice is undermined in doing so.
- With the great benefits offered by technology also comes a great responsibility to ensure that the use of technologies in justice remains ethical, fair and human centred.