Despite Chris Grayling’s best efforts to withhold details, it is still possible to compare the UK’s justice system with others in Europe.
Each weekday morning I read the European press in minute detail, to find out what is going on in the EU institutions. I am sure you would love to read about fishing quotas, aviation emissions and energy pipelines, too. My aim is to find developments relating to the legal profession.
I have noticed over the last few months something that is now a matter of open discussion in EU political circles, which is that there are fewer EU developments overall. The outcome that European leaders have promised for years - ‘we will interfere less’ - is at last a reality under the new Juncker commission.
At the height of the economic crisis, there were over 300 pieces of legislation. Yet only 23 are promised for this year. As a result, the publications are thinner. People like me, who need EU developments like other people need food and air, are gasping and choking. The European Parliament is looking to develop other aspects of its work.
So when something new and interesting comes along, I fall on it greedily. This week, the European Commission published the third in its regular series of EU justice scoreboards. The scoreboard is described as ‘an information tool aiming to assist member states to achieve more effective justice by providing objective, reliable and comparable data on their civil, commercial and administrative justice systems’.
Of course British readers are interested to hear about how the UK justice system compares to others. However, a year ago, our giant of a justice secretary, Chris Grayling, decided that he would take a heroic stance against the EU.
Wrapping himself in the union flag and declaring independence for Britain against those interfering foreigners, he declared: ‘We have no intention of the UK becoming part of a one-size-fits-all EU justice system’ - and so he refused to provide data to the commission for the scoreboard. ‘Won’t! Shan’t!’ - and Europe quaked. Therefore, when you read this year’s report, there is often ‘No data’ against the UK.
What is amusing is that it has turned out to be an often pointless stance. That is because the scoreboard collects data from varied sources, some of whom Superman Grayling is happy to help. Or maybe the data were provided by another, more sensibly run government department, so throwing back into the pram some of the toys that he peevishly threw out. As you will see, we are still able to glean interesting facts about where we stand in the world.
For instance, to begin with where we do well, Eurostat provides a statistic on general government total expenditure on law courts as a percentage of GDP. The UK comes second in the EU after Luxembourg, well ahead of the rest of the pack, including rich Germany, which is in third place. And when the figure is looked at as a percentage of GDP, the UK is tied in first place for 2012.
Then data from the World Economic Forum (a Grayling-approved institution obviously) rated the UK as fourth in the EU and seventh in the world for perceived judicial independence. Well done!
Where did we come last? The UK performed visibly the worst in the EU in the share of female judges in the Supreme Court.
There is information on the UK from the World Bank (time needed to resolve insolvency – the UK does very well, in fifth place out of all member states, at about 12 months, where number one is Ireland at less than six months, and last is Slovakia at four years). There is data supplied to the European Commission in a different exercise, with the European Competition Network, on the time needed to resolve judicial review cases against decisions of national competition authorities applying Articles 101 and 102 of the Treaty (the UK comes out top in first instance cases in 2013 at around 100 days, where in Portugal it took over 1,200 days). And there is another one on time needed to resolve cases in which public procurement rules applied (where the UK comes in the middle at around 200 days).
So, despite his best efforts, we can still enjoy something of a comparative picture. Refusnik Grayling! Change your mind - go on, Chris! - so that in future we can judge how well we are doing overall.
And now I resume the search for new EU developments. It seems that in this election year - and in the possible run-up to an in-out referendum in the UK - there will be no mud to throw at the EU, since its activities raise so little dust.
Jonathan Goldsmith is a consultant and former secretary-general at the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe, which represents around a million European lawyers through its member bars and law societies. He blogs weekly for the Gazette on European affairs