Jonathan Goldsmith gives us the latest news he would like to have heard… if only the cricket wasn’t taking over the airwaves.
One of the pleasures of living in Brussels is that it is close enough to the UK to be able to receive Radio 4 clearly on long-wave, so that I can prepare for work while listening to the Today programme, just as if I had never left Britain. But smiles turn to frowns at this time of the year, when there is Test cricket broadcast on the same frequency. To make up for my loss, and to drown out commentators Aggers and Geoffrey Boycott, here is the news as I would like to have heard it this morning.
First, we go live to the European Commission’s high-profile ‘Assises de la Justice’ conference, which is taking place in Brussels as I write, trying to hatch ideas for the next five years in the area of justice. The Gazette’s very own Joshua Rozenberg spoke, and wrote about it earlier this week. Many high-minded statements were uttered about the necessity for the independence of judges and lawyers - and similar motherhood-and-apple-pie ideals.
This is the question John Humphrys would have put to the Commissioner for Justice, Viviane Reding: ‘Is a succession of speakers really the best way to generate ideas? Surely Facebook and Google – and indeed Twitter, on which the essence of the conference can be followed – did not result from distinguished people giving long speeches one after the other to a passive audience?’
Next, we go to our small claims correspondent. I wrote some months ago about a consultation taking place in this area. The commission has now reported, and is proposing significant changes to the European Small Claims Regulation, as follows.
First, the threshold of cases will be raised from €2,000 to €10,000. There will be a broader definition of ‘cross-border cases’, to cover instances where the regulation will apply even if both parties to the dispute are from the same member state (this can happen when the court decision is to be applied in a different member state, or where the performance of a contract is in another country). There will be greater use of technology, such as: email and other electronic means for communication, including for the submission of legal documents; teleconferencing or videoconferencing for oral hearings; and the ability to launch procedures online.
Oral hearings, which might require travel to the court abroad, will take place only when the court cannot decide on the basis of written evidence. Procedural safeguards will be strengthened, so that even if hearings are held by teleconference, people will have a right to participate in person. And, finally, court fees will be capped – they will not be able to exceed 10% of the value of the claim, and if a minimum fee is charged by a member state, it should be no higher than €35. Payment of the fees by bank transfer and credit card will become available.
Next, we go to Luxembourg, where our special reporter attached to the European Court of Justice discloses that there is an interesting new preliminary reference to the court on a question which affects the basis of the relationship between lawyer and client (Šiba – Case C-537/13). The Supreme Court of Lithuania has referred to the court the question of the impact of EU consumer law legislation on the lawyer-client relationship.
Finally, looking ahead to next week, we can announce that the European Commission is expected to propose new rules to strengthen the rights of defendants in criminal proceedings. There will be three new draft directives, and two recommendations to the member states. The three directives are intended to strengthen aspects of the presumption of innocence and ensure that no trials are conducted in absentia; increase safeguards for minors; and ensure that suspects have access to legal aid at the early stages of criminal proceedings, when they may need it most.
The recommendations - on strengthening the protection of vulnerable persons, and ensuring access to legal aid more generally in criminal cases - will not be binding on the member states, and arise in that form (and not as directives) because the member states do not want the commission to interfere in areas which they see as highly sensitive, and which in particular could make proceedings more expensive. It is unlikely that this package will be adopted during the current legislative term, which ends next April.
Well, I hope that one day the BBC will come to its senses and realise that no one in Brussels listens to cricket, and so they may as well continue to broadcast the Today programme to this part of the world.
Jonathan Goldsmith is secretary general of 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