On 16 September 1986, the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers adopted Recommendation R(86)12 on certain measures aimed at preventing and reducing excessive workload in the courts. This instrument mentioned the German and Austrian Rechtspfleger as a good practice and provided a list of non-judicial tasks from which judges could be released. Thanks to this instrument, the situation has improved. Nevertheless, the judicial systems have evolved, working methods have changed, the economical and political situation has worsened.
In this context, the EUR believes in the need for a new instrument proposing new measures that could prevent and reduce the still excessive workload in court.
As part of the Justice program of the Directorate-General for Justice of the European Commission, the Academy of European Law (ERA), in partnership with the European Judicial Training Network (EJTN) and with the support of 23 training institutions from 19 EU Member States (for Austria, the Federal Ministry for the Constitution, Reforms, Deregulation and Justice) presented a pilot project for the training of European judicial officers in European law.
The Austrian organization VDRÖ, a member of the EUR, is involved in this project in cooperation with the Federal Ministry of Justice.
Vivien Whyte participated to the Congress of Portuguese Member Organisation Sindicato dos Funcionários Judiciais (SFJ) on 4 and 5 April 2019 with the Secretary of State for Justice, the Mayor of the City and of representatives from the President and Prosecutor General of the Supreme Court. Many court officials attended the event, as well as several other professional organisations.
In his speech during the opening ceremony, the President of the EUR talked about the social movement carried on by Portuguese colleagues for several months to demand a better statute, decent retirement, better careers and promotions. He renewed the support from European court clerks and Rechtspfleger in this just and necessary fight. He stressed that court clerks, keepers of the form, are also keepers of liberty and that political decision makers had to recognize their essential role in the functioning of judicial systems.
On 14 March, Vivien Whyte met with Mr. Alvaro De Elera, Member of the Cabinet of the First Vice-President of the European Commission Mr. Frans Timmermans and presented him with a copy of the White Paper for a Rechtspfleger/Greffier for Europe.
As part of the regular meetings between the EUR and the European Commission’s Directorate General for Justice, Vivien Whyte met on 8 March with Ms. Niovi Ringou, head of the Justice Policy Unit to discuss possible evolutions in the content of the EU Justice Scoreboard.
Indeed, the Scoreboard presents figures on the efficiency of European justice systems, including the number of judges per 100 000 inhabitants, but does not mention Rechtspfleger or other non-judge staff. In all countries, non-judge staff are essential to the good functioning of courts. Variations in their numbers have a significant impact both in terms of efficiency and quality of justice. Thanks to their unique position close to the citizen, they are also a key element of public confidence.
In addition, in twelve EU Member States, Rechtspfleger or similar professions relieve judges from part of their workload, allowing them to focus on complex contentious cases. Data on this precious resource, which in some countries (Austria, Poland…) handle 80 % of civil cases, should be included in the Scoreboard to give an objective image of justice systems in the EU.
President Whyte developed these points again during the meeting and expressed his hope that they will be taken into consideration for the next edition of the EU Justice Scoreboard.
Vivien Whyte and Dumitru Fornea met with Mr José Antonio Moreno Díaz (Spain), President of the European Economic and Social Committee’s Group on Fundamental Rights and the Rule of Law.
The Group, created in January 2018, is « a horizontal body within the EESC tasked to provide a forum for European civil society organizations to meet and share their assessment on the state of fundamental rights, democracy and rule of law in the Member States ». As such, they are visiting European countries to consult with civil society (e.g. Poland last December https://www.eesc.europa.eu/en/news-media/news/strong-democracy-must-allow-criticism).
This year, the Group will visit more countries and present a report on their findings. President Whyte ensured Mr. Moreno Diaz of the EUR’s interest and willingness to contribute to the Group’s work.
The meeting was also an opportunity to discuss EUR proposals as included in the White Paper for a Rechtspfleger for Europe as well as the situation of non-judge staff in several countries where they are currently facing particular difficulties (Romania, Spain, Portugal…).
Vivien Whyte and Dumitru Fornea also met with Mr Arno Metzler (Germany), President of EESC’s Diversity Europe Group to discuss issues of common interest and how to advance in the pursuit of our goals.
Finally, Vivien Whyte and Dumitru Fornea presented their congratulations to Mr Oliver Röpke (Austria) on his election as President of EESC’s Workers Group. Mr Röpke will be replacing Ms Gabriele Bischoff (Germany), a candidate for the European Parliament. He vowed to « continue fighting for democracy and decent living and working conditions for all workers in Europe ».
EUR will keep working with the European Economic and Social Committee towards further recognition and involvement of our professions in upholding the rule of law in Europe.
Following the request of Maltese authorities, the CEPEJ has launched a project to support the efficiency of Justice in Malta. An Italian judge, a judge of the Slovenian Supreme Court, the Head of support at Federal prosecution services in Belgium and EUR Treasurer Catherine Assioma, Deputy Head of Court services in France are the experts for this mission.
The project is funded by the SRSS (Structural Reform Support Service) of the EU.
The main objective of this first meeting was to gather as much materials and information as possible and understand the expectations of the Maltese stakeholders, before being able to propose solutions based on the experts’ own models.
We have met a large panel of participants, judges and magistrates, the Deputy Head of the Court and the IT general manager.
The mission includes two main components in order to reduce the length of procedures, one is to identify improvements and formulate recommendations regarding procedures in the Court of Appeal Superior Jurisdiction, the other is to support the development of human resources strategy for judicial and support staff.
The experts will release a first report at the end of March, before their next visit in Valletta end of April.
The CEPEJ Working Group on Evaluation met in Paris under the presidency of Mr Jasa Vrabek (Slovenia) to prepare the next cycle of evaluation of the European judicial systems. The questionnaire and explanatory note were reviewed in the light of the recent exercise. This work is being led in conjunction with preparations for a CEPEJ glossary by an ad hoc group. EUR President Vivien Whyte made several proposals both on the Report and the definitions.
The Working Group also discussed several cooperation projects with the European Commission. President Whyte noted that data on Rechtspfleger and other non-judge staff are available and should be included in the analysis of legal systems.
The Secretariat reported on the Peer Review Mission in Andorra led by CEPEJ on 10 and 11 December 2018. The objective of the peer evaluation is « to reinforce the credibility of the data collected in the framework of the evaluation exercise aimed at European judicial systems. It also gives the opportunity to States in which the visits are conducted, to facilitate exchanges of experiences between the national judicial statistics systems, to share good practices and to identify common indicators ». Countries that would wish to participate in such an evaluation are invited to contact the Secretariat.
President Vivien Whyte attended the General Assembly of the European Land Registry Association (ELRA) that took place in Brussels on 30 November 2018.
The event included a very interesting discussion on the nature of land registry data, moderated by Professor Teresa Rodriguez de las Heras of the University Carlos III (Madrid), a représentative from the European Commission and representatives from land registries in Portugal, Ireland and the Netherlands. The intricate nature of land registry data, combining personal and nonpersonal data, gives rise to numerous issues when considering the new GDPR regulation. Free movement of data has to be balanced with lawfulness of data usage. As such, a middle ground needs to be found between an open-data system and a controlled access system, defining a data access model that would give the opportunity to filter.