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ELM News Imagee-Justice in Europe: The Cross-border Use of Information Technology in the Justice Sector

At their informal meeting in Dresden, the Ministers of Justice of the European Union have agreed to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the cross-border support of the justice sector through information and communication technology (e-justice) and to intensify cooperation in this field.

“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.  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. Therefore 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 cooperation among judicial organs in Europe”, stated Brigitte Zypries, Federal Minister of Justice and JHA Council President.

Providing comprehensive electronic access to the justice sector throughout Europe is an ambitious project. Due to differences in legal systems in the individual Member States, judges and lawyers are seldom familiar with cross-border issues, even though this would be necessary given the increasing internationalisation of legal relations. Another aspect is the linguistic diversity in Europe. Furthermore, there are questions with respect to security, data protection and technical incompatibilities.

“In my view, solving these questions does not require the creation of a new central infrastructure at the 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. Generally, 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 coordination and networking among the individual Member States’ systems, which will continue to be operated in a decentralised manner”, Ms. Zypries explained.

A successful example of this approach is a project conducted by Germany, France, Spain, Belgium, the Czech Republic and Luxembourg to network national criminal registers. In 2006, this project commenced actual operation with the exchange of electronic data. This project's success proves that it is possible to ensure the fast and efficient cross-border exchange of information without having to make major alterations to national IT systems.

The Ministers of Justice have agreed to coordinate, at the European level, the approaches undertaken so far to network the justice sector in Europe and to begin developing standards.

The conference “Work on e-Justice”, to be held in Bremen from 29-31 May, will provide the venue for a more detailed exchange of experience. Presentations and panel discussions will focus on the following topics:

    * - the justice portal as a link between different legal systems
    * - cross-border communication among parties to judicial proceedings
    * - the exchange of information between national judicial registers
    * - procedural models for standardisation at the European level and associated legal issues

The subsequent presidencies of Slovenia and Portugal will continue to pursue these topics.