Europe's justice agencies should monitor the impact of remote working and other innovations to ensure they do not harm justice, a 45-nation benchmarking study concludes. The annual report on the efficiency of justice systems published by the Council of Europe finds that information technology has proved to be a 'valuable and even essential tool' in continuing the work of legal systems through the Covid-19 crisis. However it notes that 'the impact of these new tools should be monitored to avoid them affecting the principles of the fairness, impartiality and independence of justice'.
The report, the eighth by the Council of Europe’s European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ) identifies several trends across the continent. These include:
- A slight increase in spending: European states spend on average €72 per inhabitant per year on the legal system, €8 up on in 2016;
- Almost all the countries have put in place a legal aid mechanism for criminal and non-criminal cases to ensure access to justice for all, in accordance with the requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights.
- A 10% decrease in the number of courts between 2010 and 2018, with courts becoming increasingly specialised.
- The feminisation of judges and prosecutors continues, 'but the glass ceiling remains firmly in place for managerial positions'. However the profession of lawyer remains 'predominantly male'.
As in previous surveys, UK administrations rank highly in the legal aid league table. England and Wales, with a budget of €31.26 per inhabitant ranks behind only Northern Ireland (€48.35) and Sweden (€35.59). Critics will point out that this apparent generosity reflects the requirements of England's adversarial court system. In a further indicator of different legal traditions, England and Wales has the lowest number of professional judges per head of population (3.1 per 100,000).