In 2011 the ENCJ adopted the Vilnius Declaration which lists a set of recommendations for the judiciaries of Europe on how to respond to the actual challenges and opportunities they are facing due to the new economic landscape. The recommendations call for the development of long term policies that include necessary reforms of the judiciary. Courts should improve their efficiency, alternative dispute resolution should be promoted, and the judiciary should develop stronger relations with civil society to reinforce public confidence and gain support for the necessary reforms. Councils for the Judiciary should take the lead in the reform process involving judges and courts.
The Vilnius Declaration was the starting point for an ENCJ project on Judicial Reform that aimed to further contribute to the strengthening of ENCJ’s capacity in providing solutions for a sustainable judicial reform process. Judicial reform should have as its objective the improvement of the quality of justice and the efficiency ad effectivity of the judiciary, while strengthening and protecting the independence of the judiciary, accompanied by measures to make more effective its responsibility and accountability. Another aim should be to bring justice closer to the citizens. To this end, access to justice, including in cross border judicial proceedings, has to be facilitated.
The ENCJ report on Judicial Reform does not attempt to solve system problems in individual Member States, but it presents to the Member States the ENCJ view on judiciary reform and best practices in facing the challenges for the judiciary.
The main recommendations are the following
On the content of reform:
Rationalization and (re)organization of courts, public prosecution offices and administration :
1) Concentration of courts and administration must be motivated by the need to provide high quality justice and more effectively use available resources.
2) Judiciaries should evaluate carefully whether net cost savings can be reached by concentrating courts, and must take into account that it could be many years before the desired savings can be effectively achieved.
3) Concentration of courts should be accompanied by increased utilization of the ICT (information and communication technologies) to reduce the frequency of necessary visits by parties in person to the courts. Also, ICT should be used to increase the visibility of court proceedings
Reduction of the number of cases:
4) All reforming programmes, including reduction of case loads and increases of court fees, must leave access to justice, as guaranteed by art. 6 ECHR, intact. Measures aimed at discouraging unmeritorious cases are useful, providing such measures do not impede meritorious cases going to court.
5) If court fees are increased, the financial circumstances of the parties have to take into consideration, either by differentiating tariffs or by legal aid.
6) Regulating access to appeal should preferably be done by the judiciary, taking the merits of cases into account, and not by mechanical legal rules.
Simplification of judicial proceedings, improvement of case management and introduction of new technologies:
7) Simplification of judicial proceedings, improvement of case management and introduction of new technologies offer the chance to modernize the administration of justice, thereby improving access to justice, quality of justice as well as efficiency. All judiciaries need to adopt innovative programs to reach these goals
8) As these innovations require the modernization of procedural law and these programs require the close cooperation of all stakeholders especially judicial organizations, lawyers and government agencies responsible for the relevant legislation. Judges and prosecutors should proactively engage in developing and implementing new procedures, processes and technologies within the judiciary.
Financing of the judicial system:
As to reduction of salaries:
9) The remuneration of judges and magistrates must remain commensurate with their professional responsibility and high public duty.
10) The remuneration of judges and prosecutors should be constitutionally guaranteed in law, so as to preserve judicial independence and impartiality. All discussions and negotiations on remuneration should involve the judiciary.
As to improving the funding system:
11) The funding system of the judiciary should reflect its needs to be able to manage its caseload properly. Only in this way can timely justice be guaranteed.
12) While it is recognized that funding based on output requires the measurement of output and processing times (workload measurement), such measurement systems need to remain simple and the outcome should be used with caution to safeguard judicial independence. For instance, workload measurement norms should not be applied mechanically to individual cases.
13) To ensure and strengthen the separation of powers, the judiciary should be closely involved at all stages in the budgetary process and should be responsible for the financial management of the courts individually and as a whole, within the budgets allocated to them.
Court management and optimization of the workload of courts and public prosecution offices:
14) Redistribution of tasks within courts to allow judges to concentrate on their core judicial tasks is an important goal in itself, apart from the cost savings that may be reached this way. To be effective, judges must be provided with all necessary support. They must be able to rely on their staff and this requires highly qualified staff.
15) While maintaining a transparent mechanism, the allocation of cases to courts and judges should be made more flexible in order to utilize the deployment of judges better.
16) Reduction in overheads is desirable, but must be carefully balanced with increasing needs to have adequate information about caseload and processing time.
On the process of reform:
17) It is essential that the judiciary, judicial councils and in particular judges and prosecutors be involved at each stage of development and implementation of reform plans. This is to ensure the independence of the judiciary, that reforms are effective and instill confidence.
18) The judiciary, under the lead of Judiciary councils, where these exist, should develop sensible proposals for effective reform. The goal of reform should be improvement of the overall excellence of justice. More effective administration results in improvements in timeliness and quality of delivery.
19) It is recommended that such proposals for reform are informed by the general directions outlined in this report. In particular, the combined simplification of procedures, stricter case management and digitalization offer a perspective for judicial excellence.