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Deal on Digitalised Judicial Cooperation in the EU

The readers of the blog are aware of the European Commission proposal for a Regulation on the digitalisation of judicial cooperation and access to justice in cross-border civil, commercial and criminal matters and, and the associated proposal for a Directive amending several existing directives with a view to improving digitalisation and ensuring secure, reliable and time-efficient communication between courts and competent authorities.

Presented in December 2021, the two proposals aim to ensure access to justice in the EU including in the events of force majeure, such as pandemics, and adapt judicial cooperation between Member States for such situations.

On 28 June 2023, Parliament and Council negotiators reached an agreement on the use of digital technology in the judicial cooperation among Member States. Negotiators of the Legal Affairs Committee (JURI) and the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) agreed with Council negotiators on its future shape. The agreement, once formally approved by the Council, will be confirmed by a vote in the European Parliament.

The Parliament press note, which provides few details, highlights two aspects: one relating to electronic documents and videoconferencing, the other regarding inclusive digitalisation.

In relation to electronic documents and videoconferencing, the proposed legislation enables the use of digital technology for exchange of information, documents, payments of fees and videoconferencing. Communication between citizens, companies and national authorities would be ensured by an IT system, created and maintained by the European Commission and financed through the Digital Europe Programme with an access point in each Member State. The European e-Justice portal will provide information to individuals and companies on their rights and the European electronic access point will enable their direct communication with authorities.

Inclusive digitalisation refers to efforts to ensure that digitalisation does not lead to exclusion and is implemented in a way to ensure right to a fair trial for everyone. Equivalent access for people with disabilities is also stressed.

The Council press note specifies that the new rules, once adopted, will improve cross-border judicial procedures by:
-allowing parties and other relevant persons in civil, commercial and criminal hearings to participate by means of videoconferencing or other distance communication technology;
-establishing a European electronic access point through which natural and legal persons can file claims, send and receive relevant information, and communicate with the competent authorities;
-accepting electronic communication and documents from natural and legal persons;
-recognising documents with electronic signatures or seals;
-promoting the payment of fees through electronic means.

Negotiators further agreed on the need for additional training for justice professionals when it comes to the use of digital tools such as videoconferencing and the IT system and encouraged Member States to share their best practices on the use of digital tools.

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