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Document 52009XG0331(01)

Multi-annual European e-Justice action plan 2009-2013

OJ C 75, 31.3.2009, p. 1–12 (BG, ES, CS, DA, DE, ET, EL, EN, FR, IT, LV, LT, HU, MT, NL, PL, PT, RO, SK, SL, FI, SV)

31.3.2009   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 75/1


MULTI-ANNUAL EUROPEAN E-JUSTICE ACTION PLAN 2009-2013

(2009/C 75/01)

I.   INTRODUCTION

1.

In June 2007 the JHA Council decided that work should be carried out with a view to developing at European level the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in the field of justice, particularly by creating a European portal.

2.

The use of such new technologies would help to rationalise and simplify judicial procedures. The use of an electronic system in this area would reduce procedural deadlines and operating costs, to the benefit of citizens, undertakings, legal practitioners and the administration of justice. Access to justice would thus be facilitated.

3.

According to studies carried out by the Commission (1), about 10 million people are currently involved in cross-border civil proceedings. This figure is destined to rise as a result of the increase in the movement of persons within the EU.

4.

Over the last 18 months the Council Working Party on Legal Data Processing (e-Justice) has been carrying out considerable work in response to the successive mandates given to it by the Council. In this context, some Member States have developed pilot projects, in particular the one concerning the European e-Justice portal.

5.

On 2 June 2008 the Commission published a communication to the Council, the European Parliament and the European Economic and Social Committee entitled ‘Towards a European e-Justice Strategy’ (2).

6.

The European Parliament has also launched discussions on e-Justice. An own-initiative report is due to be adopted before the end of 2008.

7.

At its meeting on 5 and 6 June 2008, the Council invited the Working Party on Legal Data Processing (e-Justice), in the light of the Commission's communication (3), to examine aspects relating to the creation of a coordination and management structure capable of developing multiple projects on a large scale and within a reasonable timeframe in the field of e-Justice, and to launch discussions on the establishment of a multi-annual work programme.

8.

At its meeting on 19 and 20 June 2008 the European Council welcomed the initiative to ‘progressively establish a uniform EU e-Justice portal by the end of 2009.’

II.   CONTEXT FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF E-JUSTICE AT EUROPEAN LEVEL

9.

The development of e-Justice must be situated in a threefold context:

1.   e-Justice work already carried out

10.

Work prior to that of the Working Party on e-Justice has already been carried out in the European Union framework, specifically to ensure access to European information (websites of the European institutions). More specific work has been or is in the process of being carried out either in the context of implementing instruments adopted by the Council in civil law matters (European Judicial Network in civil and commercial matters) or in criminal law matters (e.g. the European Judicial Network in criminal law matters or the interconnection of criminal records) or on the basis of initiatives of the legal professions (e.g. the European network of registers of wills), and in yet another context, such as, for instance, work on the networking of business registers interconnected through EBR and land registers interconnected through EULIS.

11.

The inclusion of these initiatives in the e-Justice multi-annual programme must therefore take place in consultation with those who are responsible for their implementation.

2.   The e-Government context

12.

The European e-Justice system must be designed while respecting the principle of the independence of the judiciary.

13.

However, from a technical viewpoint, e-Justice must take into account the more general framework of e-Government (4). A solid body of expertise concerning projects involving secure infrastructure and the authentication of documents already exists and must be put to use. In full cooperation with the Commission, the European interoperability framework (EIF) developed within the IDABC programme (5) should be promoted. European work on e-Signature and e-Identity (6) is particularly relevant in judicial matters, where the authentication of acts is essential.

14.

It is in this general context that the multi-annual programme should thus be defined. The latter must aim to provide a response not only in the short term, but also in the medium and long term, thus contributing, via the use of ICT, towards the development of a European area of freedom, security and justice.

3.   A horizontal approach

15.

E-Justice matters are not confined to certain legal fields. They arise in many areas of civil, criminal and administrative law. E-Justice therefore has horizontal relevance in the context of European cross-border proceedings.

III.   ACTION PLAN

1.   Scope

16.

The European dimension of the e-Justice project should be highlighted. Thus, e-Justice should be renamed European e-Justice.

17.

The Member States naturally remain free, with due regard for the powers laid down by the Treaties, to set up projects among themselves that may concern e-Justice, but not necessarily European e-Justice. However, such projects could also qualify for European status, and particularly Community funding, under certain conditions.

18.

Given the horizontal dimension of European e-Justice, the Working Party on e-Justice will assume a coordinating role in considering technical issues raised during discussions in other subordinate Council bodies. Legislative work, on the other hand, will be a matter for the competent Council working parties such as, for instance, the Working Party on Cooperation in Criminal Matters or the Committee on Civil Law Matters.

19.

A European system of e-Justice should be accessible to citizens, businesses, legal practitioners and the judicial authorities, which will make use of existing modern technologies. Three criteria should be established:

(a)   A European dimension

20.

European e-Justice is a step on the way to the creation of a European judicial area, using information and communication technologies. The projects developed under European e-Justice must therefore have the potential to involve all the Member States of the European Union.

(b)   Support for the construction of the European judicial area

21.

The projects must be of use in implementing the legislative instruments already adopted by the European Community and the European Union in the field of justice, without, however, ruling out the other projects that contribute to the creation of a European judicial area.

22.

European e-Justice should also serve as a tool for use by legal practitioners and judicial authorities by providing a platform and individual functionalities for effective and secure exchanges of information.

(c)   A construction at the service of European citizens

23.

It is essential that European e-Justice should be developed so as to be of direct service to European citizens, who would benefit from its added value, specifically via the portal. In the choice of the projects or in the order in which they are implemented, it should be ensured that citizens can rapidly reap the practical benefits of the e-Justice tools. Thus, various projects ought to be launched as soon as possible, in accordance with the annex and without prejudice to other projects that may be added following the conditions set out in the current action plan.

24.

All the projects enabling European citizens to become more aware of their rights meet this objective. This must also be the case for projects enabling them to make use of those rights (legal aid, mediation, translation, etc.).

2.   The functions of European e-Justice

25.

The work carried out by the Working Party on e-Justice and the Commission communication provide a clear definition of the functionalities of the future European e-Justice system. The following three basic functions should be established:

(a)   Access to information in the field of justice

26.

This information concerns in particular European legislation and case law (7) as well as that of the Member States.

27.

European e-Justice will also provide access via interconnections to the information managed by the Member States in the framework of the public administration of justice (for instance, and without prejudice to the functioning rules of this project, the interconnection of the databases of Member States' criminal records).

(b)   Dematerialisation of proceedings

28.

The dematerialisation of cross-border judicial and extrajudicial proceedings (for example e-mediation) involves electronic communication between a court and the parties to the proceedings, in particular in order to implement European instruments adopted by the Council (8).

(c)   Communication between judicial authorities

29.

Simplifying and encouraging communication between the judicial authorities and the Member States, more specifically in the framework of instruments adopted in the European judicial area, is of particular importance (e.g. videoconferencing or secure electronic networks).

3.   The European e-Justice portal

30.

The uniform European e-Justice portal, called for by the European Council by the end of 2009, has been the focus of considerable work within the Working Party on e-Justice. A pilot project was also carried out by a group of Member States as part of that work. The portal should follow on from work to date on this pilot project.

31.

The portal will provide access to the whole European e-Justice system, i.e. to European and national information websites and/or services. However, the e-Justice portal cannot merely be a collection of links.

32.

It will permit by means of a uniform authentication procedure to open up for members of the legal professions the various functionalities reserved for them, to which they will have differentiated access rights. It should be advisable to provide for such a possibility for authentication for non-professionals also.

33.

It will also provide access to national functionalities by means of a user-friendly multilingual interface, making them understandable to the European citizens.

34.

The content of the functionalities accessible via the portal, as well as its management, will obviously depend on the choices by the Council regarding both the functions of the European e-Justice and the arrangements for its management.

4.   Technical aspects

35.

The establishment of the European e-Justice system implies resolving a number of horizontal technical issues that have been identified, particularly in the report approved by the Council of 5 June 2007 (9).

(a)   A decentralised technical system

36.

At their informal meeting in Dresden in January 2007, a large majority of Ministers of Justice expressed the desire to create a decentralised system at European level which interlinked the systems existing in the Member States.

(b)   Standardisation of exchanges of information

37.

The highest possible degree of compatibility between the various technical and organisational measures selected for the judicial system applications must be ensured, while guaranteeing that the Member States have maximum flexibility. It is, however, necessary to reach agreement on standardised communication formats and protocols in line with relevant European or international standards, allowing for interoperable, effective, secure and rapid exchanges at the lowest possible cost.

(c)   Authentication mechanisms

38.

One of the essential conditions for the effective use of e-Justice across national borders is the development of uniform standards or interfaces for the use of authentication technologies and the components of electronic signatures. This requirement is at the very least essential for any European e-Justice functionalities going beyond merely making legal information available to the public. The various legal requirements in force in the Member States, as well as the technologies used by the latter, should therefore continue to be examined. On the basis of the results and experience obtained, the introduction of an electronic exchange of documents between Member States that is as secure as possible from a legal viewpoint could be determined.

(d)   Security of the system and data protection

39.

When European e-Justice services are created, enabling information to be communicated between judicial authorities or between the latter and citizens or members of the legal professions, those data will have to be exchanged in a secure environment. Here, too, the preparatory work carried out in the framework of the IDABC could be taken into account.

40.

Furthermore, since such data are for the most part of a personal nature within the meaning of European legislation, compliance with the principles laid down by that legislation will have to be ensured.

5.   Linguistic aspects

41.

The fact that twenty-three different languages are used in the European Union institutions, and the concern that European citizens should be able to enjoy user-friendly access to the European e-Justice system, will mean that measures focusing on translation and interpretation in judicial matters will have to be considered.

42.

In this regard, it would be an illusion to think that facilitating access for citizens to the European e-Justice website of a Member State other than their own could be an adequate solution: the language barrier would make such access largely pointless.

43.

One specific solution to this linguistic challenge could be to use automated translation systems, particularly for the content of forms used in European instruments, and to place national translation resources online.

44.

Also, a working method needs devising which ensures faithful translation, in the European Community's twenty-three official languages, of the legal concepts which exist within Member States' legal systems, taking into consideration questions relating to semantics.

6.   The need for a work infrastructure

45.

All these aspects certainly make it necessary to lay down a procedure for choosing the technical standards that could be used to enable Member States' systems to be interoperable and to define, as is customary in the case of ICT-related projects, the separation between:

(a)

the project management function, i.e. decision-making regarding the structure and functioning of the European e-Justice system and the projects to be developed. This function may sometimes call for work of a legal nature, as shown by the work carried out on the interconnection of criminal records;

(b)

the project implementation function, i.e. development of the various European e-Justice services such as devising multilingual user interfaces, in close collaboration with the Member States, and systems development. Management will also comprise full maintenance of the system.

46.

Such a structure should no doubt be composed of ICT experts, on the one hand, and have translation capabilities, on the other hand. Several possibilities, not necessarily mutually exclusive, are conceivable:

(a)

one or more Member States offer to take responsibility for managing such a structure, working in close consultation with the other Member States within the framework of the Working Party on e-Justice;

(b)

this function is performed by the European Commission, according to arrangements as yet to be defined;

(c)

a European agency is created. There are several possible models for this, depending on the size and degree of autonomy of the agency. However, this is an option that is lengthy and complex to put into practice, and could be considered only in the medium term, possibly as and when work progressed.

7.   Financing

47.

The development of European e-Justice involves raising considerable financial resources, intended mainly to:

(a)

encourage the setting up of e-Justice systems at national level to pave the way for European e-Justice;

(b)

enable projects at European level to be developed, including the setting up and development of the European e-Justice portal.

48.

Recourse could be had to the civil and criminal justice financial programmes for up to EUR 45 million in 2008-2009. This amount would have to be increased significantly over the coming years. The other amounts available in the European Union budget that could be allocated immediately to European e-Justice would also have to be defined clearly.

49.

In addition, as proposed by the Commission, a single horizontal programme covering both civil and criminal law matters would have to be devised as soon as possible. The budgetary resources would have to be increased considerably in order to meet the costs of implementing European e-Justice at both national and Community levels. It would also be necessary for the selection criteria currently in force in the civil and criminal justice programmes to be clarified and harmonised in order to take account of the European e-Justice criteria set out in section III of this document.

50.

e-Justice related projects within the meaning of this action plan which are not covered by paragraph 49 may be funded under other existing Community programmes inasmuch as they meet the criteria laid down in those programmes.

IV.   THE PRESIDENCY'S PROPOSALS

51.

Drawing up a multi-annual action plan presupposes:

(a)

determining, for the development of the e-Justice functions, with due regard for the Financial Regulation applicable to the general budget of the European Communities, the tasks to be carried out, defining their priorities and, as far as possible, the deadlines to be met. Some degree of flexibility is necessary, however, to ensure suitable adaptability to developments taking place in this sector;

(b)

allocating the tasks among the Council, the Member States, the European Commission and a structure for developing/coordinating certain technical tasks which should be determined. This allocation should also concern the arrangements for selecting future projects;

(c)

determining a method for rigorous monitoring and assessment of the development of the action plan.

52.

This means that the Council should take, acting with due regard for each Institution's autonomy and in accordance with Articles 5 and 7 of the EC Treaty, a number of decisions on the issues dealt with in this document, and specifically:

(a)

on the working structure to be set up at European Union level to carry out the European e-Justice projects and to supervise their implementation and progress;

(b)

on assigning the tasks to the various players: Council, European Commission, Member States.

53.

In this respect, the Presidency would point out that the limited experience of existing e-Justice systems (launch of the website of the European Judicial Network in criminal matters, interconnection of criminal records) shows that the initiative of one or more Member States has often been decisive in launching projects.

54.

However, beyond a certain stage of development, the participation of a larger number of Member States further complicates the work. It then becomes necessary to give a European dimension to the development, management and progress of the project.

55.

Moreover, the various technical aspects examined above clearly show that certain horizontal tasks would gain by being managed at European level. Considerable economies of scale could be expected as the number of the European e-Justice services available increases.

1.   For a European e-Justice

56.

The Presidency proposes that the e-Justice programme be named ‘European e-Justice’.

2.   Towards the creation of a working structure

57.

In the light of the developments set out in this action plan, and in order to devise a multi-annual programme for developing European e-Justice, the Presidency proposes that the following overall working structure be put in place:

(a)   Management function

58.

Following the guidelines defined in the action plan the Council would follow up implementation of the multi-annual programme. It would take all decisions necessary to achieve the objectives set in this action plan. In particular, it would be responsible, on the basis of the criteria defined in section III and in close association with the Commission, for establishing a list of new projects proposed by the Council, by the Member States (point (c) below) or by the Commission.

59.

The Commission would undertake any study which it considered appropriate either on its own initiative or at the Council's request.

60.

The Council would be able to determine the functional specifications for the projects.

61.

Regarding Community financing, the Commission, in compliance with the procedures applicable, would take full account of the guidelines and decisions adopted by the Council.

(b)   Implementation function

62.

The European Commission would make available to the Council an implementation structure responsible for:

(i)

ensuring the technical conditions for the European e-Justice system in accordance with the procedure laid down in paragraph 58;

(ii)

at the request of the Council, carrying out, in close association with the Member States and on the basis of the Community financing available, those European e-Justice projects defined by the multi-annual action programme, or any complementary projects;

(iii)

developing a first version of the European e-Justice portal by the end of 2009, following the principles laid down in the pilot project worked out by the Working Party on e-Justice and acting on the decisions which the Council is called upon to take. On the basis of that first version, further functionalities developed under specific pilot projects would be phased in.

With a view to complementary use of Member States' competences and those of the Commission, the latter would set up a working party composed of technical experts, including those of Member States, which would meet at regular intervals to follow up ongoing projects and decide on the technical options to be implemented.

The Commission would also keep the Council informed of progress of work in hand and of matters discussed by the working party of experts, thereby ensuring adequate follow-up by the Member States and enabling them to secure the input of their methodological and technological advances into the proceedings.

(c)   The Member States

63.

Without prejudice to the rules in point (a) above, and possibly via the Community financing available, the Member States may propose and launch new Europe e-Justice projects, in accordance with the technical specifications defined by the Council in close consultation with the Commission, specifically for compliance with technical standards and the development of multilingual interfaces.

3.   Review clause

64.

The Working Party on e-Justice would assess the implementation structure's activities in the first half of 2010 and would, if necessary, make any suggestions, which it considers appropriate to improve its functioning, to the Council.

3.   A multi-annual programme

65.

The annexed multi-annual programme will be regularly updated as work progresses.

V.   CONCLUSIONS

66.

Coreper/Council is asked to approve the European e-Justice action plan.


(1)  10285/08 ADD 1 JURINFO 45 JAI 305 JUSTCIV 119 COPEN 118 CRIMORG 87.

(2)  10285/08 JURINFO 45 JAI 305 JUSTCIV 119 COPEN 118 CRIMORG 87.

(3)  It should be noted that the European Parliament has launched discussions on e-Justice.

(4)  E-Government is defined as the application of ICT to all administrative procedures.

(5)  http://ec.europa.eu/idabc/ Preliminary Study on mutual recognition of e-Signatures for e-Government applications (2007) and eID Interoperability for PEGS (2007).

(6)  Standardisation aspects of e-Signature (2007)

http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/eeurope/i2010/docs/esignatures/e_signatures_standardisation.pdf

(7)  A link will be made to EUR-Lex and N-Lex.

(8)  Regulation (EC) No 1896/2006; Regulation (EC) No 861/2007.

(9)  Document 10393/07 JURINFO 21 of 5 June 2007.


ANNEX

ACTION PLAN

Annex to the multiannual European e-Justice action plan for 2009-2013

Introduction

Projects have been classified by type of project, in the following categories:

support for instruments adopted to develop the European judicial area,

interconnection of national registers,

horizontal issue,

exchange of best practice.

Project

Stage reached

Action to be taken

Responsibility for action

Timetable

Comments

Type of project

European e-Justice portal

a prototype portal established by a group of Member States

DIM system elaborated by certain Member States in the framework of the e-Justice Working Party

authentication and identification

Group of Member States and the Commission

2009-2011

Launching the portal in 2008, opening up the portal to the public in December 2009 (see European Council conclusions of 18 and 19 June 2008)

Reflections ongoing

The accessible websites will be determined on the basis of the projects eligible and the criteria laid down by the Council

Horizontal issues

the prototype was made available to members of the e-Justice Working Party in April 2008

security

multilingual interface and translation work

technical standards

Commission in full cooperation with the group of Member States participating in the pilot project

The portal will be improved and added to as the other projects advance

paperless communication between judicial authorities via a secure network. Work under way under the IDABC programme and in the e-Justice Working Party

feasibility study by the Commission

Interconnection of criminal records

as part of the pilot project, interconnection in 2006 of the criminal records of ES, BE, DE and FR, extended in January 2008 to CZ and LU

formulation of a reference implementation to facilitate access of new Member States to interconnection

Council (work on the ECRIS draft followed up by the COPEN Working Party) and Commission (formulation of the reference implementation and EU co-financing)

reference implementation available in 2009

To date, work has been followed up by the COPEN Working Party

Interconnection of national registers and support for instruments adopted to develop the European judicial area

this project is currently operational among 6 Member States; 14 Member States are currently partners

political agreement at the June 2007 JHA Council on the draft framework decision on the organisation and content of the exchange of information extracted from criminal records between Member States

general approach on the draft Decision of the Council on 24 October 2008 on ECRIS laying down the basic features of the format for the electronic exchange of information between the 27 Member States

establishment of EU co-financing to prepare for connection to national criminal records

co-financing underway

European order for payment procedure

Regulation of 30 December 2006, making it possible to use electronic methods

continue discussions and work on the prototype

create dynamic forms

Group of Member States then Commission

2009-2011

 

Support for instruments adopted to develop the European judicial area

prototype automated procedure devised by certain Member States

introduction of the e-application

Group of Member States then Commission

feasibility study launched by the Commission

Commission

Legal aid

Council Directive of 27 January 2003 to improve access to justice in cross-border disputes by establishing minimum common rules relating to legal aid

adding information relating to legal aid to the portal

request and obtain online legal aid: launching a feasibility study

Commission

2009-2013

 

Support for instruments adopted to develop the European judicial area

European small claims procedure

Regulation of 11 July 2007 — making it possible to use electronic methods

Commission to launch a feasibility study

Commission

2009-2013

 

Support for instruments adopted to develop the European judicial area

create dynamic forms

Group of Member States and Commission

introduction of the e-application

Group of Member States and then the Commission

Translation

EUROVOC pilot project

SYSTRAN automated translation system in use since 1976

questionnaire distributed by Austria

Work on semantic interoperability and tables (as an aid for comprehension)

gradual compilation of comparative multilingual vocabulary

financing for legal translation tools in all European language pairs

interconnection of legal translators and interpreters databases

creation of a legal glossary

elaboration of tables of semantic concordance in different fields

Commission (Publications Office)

2009-2013

 

Horizontal issues

Commission (Translation Service)

2009-2013

Group of Member States then Commission

2009-2013

Commission and Member States

SEMIC-EU

2009-2013

Better use of videoconferencing technology

booklet prepared under the Slovenian Presidency

finalise and place booklet online on the portal

Commission in cooperation with the Member States

2008-2009

Involve both judicial networks in the work

Support for instruments adopted to develop the European judicial area and exchange of best practice

user manual being drawn up

finalise the manual and place online

end 2009 at the latest

circulation of a questionnaire on videoconferencing equipment and the legal conditions for its use

place online the updated information on videoconferencing equipment in courts and the legal conditions for its use

Member States

Manager of the European judicial network on civil and commercial matters

Manager of the European criminal judicial network

online some time in 2009 at the latest

establishing a reservation system: evaluation of its feasibility and relevance

devise an online reservation system

Commission in cooperation with the Member States

Launch in 2009

Mediation

Directive of 21 May 2008 to be transposed by 21 May 2011

adding information relating to mediation to the portal

launching a feasibility study

Commission

2011-2013

The timetable depends on the date on which the Directive is transposed

Support for instruments adopted to develop the European judicial area

Electronic signature  (1)

work begun (IDABC (2))

 

Commission

2009-2011

The project IDABC is being carried out by DG SANCO

Horizontal issues

Service of judicial and extrajudicial documents (by electronic means)

Council Regulation of 29 May 2000 on the service in the Member States of judicial and extrajudicial documents in civil or commercial matters

feasibility study

Commission

2010-2011

 

Support for instruments adopted to develop the European judicial area

Online payment of procedural costs

Enable procedural costs to be paid online

Commence work

Member States

2011-2013

 

Support for instruments adopted to develop the European judicial area

Interconnection of insolvency registers

a prototype covering data from the insolvency registers of certain Member States

add data from the insolvency registers of other Member States

create a multilingual interface

create a legal and semantic glossary

Group of Member States then Commission

Continuation in 2009 at the initiative of the Member States. Incorporation in the portal

 

Interconnection of national registers

Interconnection of land registers (inegration of EULIS)

work undertaken by EULIS

1st phase: link to EULIS

2nd phase: reflection on the possibility for partial integration of EULIS into the portal

Authentication of the user via the portal

Commission

2009-2010

Link with work in other Council configurations

Interconnection of national registers

Interconnection of commercial registers (integration of EBR

work undertaken by EBR

1st phase: link to EBR

2nd phase: reflection on the possibility for partial integration of EBR into the portal

Authentication of the user via the portal

Commission

2009-2010

Link with work in other Council configurations

Interconnection of national registers

Interconnection of registers of wills

pilot project: effective interconnection between France and Belgium

determine the possibilities for cooperation with ENWRA (CNUE)

feasibility study by the Commission

JHA Council and ENWRA (CNUE)

2011-2013

Link with the future instrument on inheritances to be presented by the Commission in 2009

Interconnection of national registers

Training of legal practitioners

discussions on e-Learning under way in the EJTN

development of e-Learning tools

European Judicial Training Network

2010-2012

 

Exchange of best practice

Justice Forum created by the Commission

organisation de annual meetings on e-Justice topics in the Justice Forum

Commission

discussion of various national practices in a small working party

training in the use of videoconferencing

Member States at national level and, if appropriate, the European Judicial Training Network at European level


(1)  See also work undertaken in the field of authentication and identification as described under the project ‘e-Justice portal’.

(2)  Whilst ensuring the autonomous nature of the European e-Justice.


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