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European Case Law Identifier

European Case Law Identifier

 

SUMMARY OF:

2019-2023 Action Plan European e-Justice

Conclusions inviting the introduction of the European Case Law Identifier (ECLI) and a minimum set of uniform metadata for case law

Article 67 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union

WHAT IS THE AIM OF THE ACTION PLAN, THE CONCLUSIONS AND OF THE TREATY ARTICLE?

The 2019-2023 Action Plan on European e-Justice builds upon the EU’s e-Justice action plan 2014-2018 which has now ended. Both reflect the importance of cross-border access to national case law*, the need for standardisation and decentralised technology.

The conclusions called for the introduction of the European Case Law Identifier (ECLI) and of a minimum set of uniform metadata* for case law.

The conclusions are based on Article 67(1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. This article states that the EU shall be an area of freedom, security and justice with respect for fundamental rights and the different legal systems and traditions of the EU countries.

KEY POINTS

Having access to case law is vitally important for the rule of law — one of the key values of the EU, as set out in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union. This access:

  • ensures the scrutiny of judiciary by the public;
  • helps to make the judiciary more transparent; and
  • keeps the public informed as to developments in the law.

The case law of national courts is a significant source of information on EU countries’ legal systems but also on EU law. In addition to problems relating to language, the lack of uniform case law identifiers has been an obstacle to cross-border research on legal questions. Citizens, legal professionals and national authorities therefore needed a tool allowing national and EU case law to be easily searched and then clearly cited.

The purpose of this was not to create a centralised European database on national case law. Instead, a common system for the identification and for the metadata of case law has been set in place.

The conclusions therefore called on EU countries to establish on a voluntary basis:

  • a minimum set of uniform metadata: the Council of the EU has drawn up a list of metadata, such as full name of the court, the country in which the court or tribunal is seated and the date of the decision, which must accompany each document which is an instance of a judgment;
  • the ECLI: this uniform identifier enabling judicial decisions to be identified more easily comprises 5 mandatory elements
    • ‘ECLI’: to identify the identifier as being a European Case Law Identifier;
    • the country code;
    • the code of the court that gave the judgment;
    • the year the judgment was given;
    • a number, up to 25 alphanumeric characters, in a format that is decided upon by each EU country;
    • colons (:) are used to separate these elements. No other punctuation marks are allowed.

Each participating EU country using ECLI has to appoint a governmental or judicial organisation as their national ECLI Coordinator. Courts and tribunals within one country may join the system at any time. The ECLI has also been implemented by the Boards of Appeal of the European Patent Office and by the Court of Justice of the European Union (which also acts as ECLI coordinator for the EU). A European identifier is assigned to all judgments which are given, not only to those published on the internet.

The benefits of ECLI include:

  • easier citation of case law and less time spent by legal professionals and academics on researching it;
  • a multilingual ECLI search engine which allows users to find judicial decisions from the databases of those case law publishers who have implemented the ECLI standard and provided access to their data;
  • better application of EU law by national judges because they can more easily find relevant case law;
  • strengthened mutual understanding among the legal communities of the EU countries.

In December 2018, the Council adopted the strategy and action plan to develop e-justice which will run for the 2019-2023 period. Work related to e-justice will focus on 3 objectives:

  • improving access to information in the area of justice;
  • continuing the digitalisation of judicial and extrajudicial proceedings to offer easier and faster access to court decisions; and
  • ensuring the technical implementation and management of the national e-justice systems allowing interconnection and interoperability between EU countries’ systems.

BACKGROUND

Information about ECLI can be found on the European e-Justice portal. The portal provides details about the format and use of the identifier, as well as on the metadata and the national coordinators. It also enables access to an ECLI search interface. This interface is not intended to be a database at European level but simply enables a search to be carried out, using the ECLI and certain metadata, of the interconnected national databases and websites.

KEY TERMS

Case law: all of the judicial decisions relating to a given judicial question.
Metadata: in information technology, this relates to data which describes other data, for example by providing information on the date of publication or on the author of the data. Therefore metadata make it easier to consult information. They also improve the relevance of the results displayed by search engines.

MAIN DOCUMENTS

2019-2023 Action Plan European e-Justice (OJ C 96, 13.3.2019, pp. 9-32)

Consolidated version of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union — Part Three — Union policies and internal actions — Title V — Area of freedom, security and justice — Chapter 1 — General provisions — Article 67 (ex Article 61 TEC and ex Article 29 TEU) (OJ C 202, 7.6.2016, p. 73)

Council conclusions inviting the introduction of the European Case Law Identifier (ECLI) and a minimum set of uniform metadata for case law (OJ C 127, 29.4.2011, pp.1-7)

RELATED DOCUMENTS

2019-2023 Strategy on e-Justice (OJ C 96, 13.3.2019, pp. 3-8)

Multiannual European e-Justice Action Plan 2014-2018 (OJ C 182, 14.6.2014, pp. 2-13)

last update 29.04.2019

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