EU plan borders on the judicious

17 Jan 2007

European justice ministers are set to examine ways of electronically linking their countries’ respective justice systems without embarking on major alterations to national IT systems, it emerged yesterday.

At an informal meeting in Brussels, the EU’s various justice ministers acknowledged that providing comprehensive electronic access to the justice sector across Europe will be an ambitious project.

First and foremost will be the differences in legal systems in the individual member states. Judges and lawyers are seldom familiar with cross-border issues, despite the internationalisation of legal relations. Secondly, the linguistic diversity of Europe will complicate matters.

As well as this, questions surrounding security, data protection and technical incompatibilities are likely to arise.

“In a European area of freedom, security and justice with porous borders, information technology-based support of the justice sector must not end at the internal borders,” said Brigitte Zypries, the German Federal Minister of Justice.

“As the internet demonstrates, information technology serves to overcome borders. To varying extents, all EU member states successfully employ information and communication technology as a means to support justice sector activities, or plan to do so in the near future.”

Zypries added: “It is time now to establish the basis for using e-justice at the European level – for the benefit of citizens seeking justice and of enterprises as well as in the interest of improved co-operation among judicial organs in Europe.”

Zypries said that solving questions of data protection and security, linguistic diversity and different legal systems does not require the creation of a new central infrastructure at European level.

“Information technology systems that function well and that meet the special requirements of national legal systems are already established in the member states to support the justice sector.

“These national solutions are based upon considerable investments of financial and human resources which need to be applied for future use. The aim should therefore be co-ordination and networking among the individual member states’ systems, which will continue to be operated in a decentralised manner,” said Zypries.

A successful example of the approach suggested by Zypries is already being trialled in Germany, France, Spain, Belgium, the Czech Republic and Luxembourg to network national criminal registers.

The project commenced in 2006 with the exchange of electronic data between the countries, which Zypries said proves that it is possible to ensure efficient cross-border exchange of information without having to make major alterations to national IT systems.

A conference on electronically linking Europe’s respective legal systems will be held in Bremen in May.

By John Kennedy