De pandemie heeft duidelijk gemaakt hoe belangrijk het is dat de rechtsstelsels efficiënt en veerkrachtig zijn op zowel nationaal als EU-niveau. Door digitalisering kan de rechtspraak worden verbeterd en het functioneren ervan gemakkelijker worden gemaakt. Iedereen die in de EU woont, moet snel toegang kunnen krijgen tot de rechtspraak. Een brede beschikbaarheid van digitale overheidsdiensten is ook een van de doelstellingen van het digitale decennium van Europa.
Op 12 oktober hield de Europese Commissie een Ministerieel forum over digitale justitie gehouden om te debatteren over het digitale transformatieproces van de justitiële ruimte. Hieronder leest u een korte weergave van de speech die Commissaris voor Justitie Didier Reynders hield.
This High Level Event –Digital Justice Ministerial Forum- was announced almost one year ago, as part of the Commission’s Communication on the digitalisation of justice in the EU. A lot has happened during this period and we now steadily move forward into Europe’s Digital Decade.
It is therefore timely that we gather today to take stock of our achievements and, more importantly, look into future endeavours towards modernising justice. Digitalisation is an inevitable part our life, as we know it. Since the very beginning of my mandate, I have been a strong supporter of a true digital transformation of the justice area. The test the pandemic put upon our justice systems and our society in general further reinforced this believe.
I think that few would dispute the opportunities and benefits digitalisation can bring to improving the efficiency, resilience and access to the Union’s justice systems. From the convenience of obtaining electronic certificates in a couple of mouse clicks, the possibility to electronically file claims, to being able to remotely hear witnesses from other EU countries – the list of examples of the added value of digital solutions is long.
I am sure you all agree that modernising the functioning of our justice systems can be particularly challenging. It would perhaps even be fair to say that the judiciary is quite tradition bound and does not easily embrace change. To a large extent this is so for good reasons. At the same time, as the honourable Francis Bacon said, “If we do not maintain justice, justice will not maintain us”.
Indeed, justice does need to be “maintained”, not only with respect to its administration, but also by making sure that our justice systems are modern, efficient and keep up with the times. It would be quite impossible to guarantee the rule of law without first guaranteeing that the institutions it rests upon are functioning well. Effective justice systems require effective tools.
I am personally convinced of the need to follow a pragmatic approach when building such tools. After all, our citizens, businesses and legal practitioners have very specific needs and expectations. It is therefore paramount to ensure that the digital solutions we develop bring value in addressing those needs. At the same time, when we discuss our common digitalisation efforts, it is just as essential to bear in mind several key considerations.
In the first place, I would like to point out that the digital transformation should be an evolutionary and not a revolutionary process. It is only through continuous and gradual effort that we can ensure that individuals and practitioners build the necessary digital skills and knowledge. It will not happen overnight that we adapt to the changes caused by the evolving digital ecosystem.
Secondly, as I have said on previous occasions, the digitalisation of public services should be carried out in a people-centric manner. It should not lead to a deepening of the already existing digital divide. No one should be left behind, or be disadvantaged, because of the introduction of digital means of communication.
Thirdly, the development of digital solutions should take place in a way that fully respects and safeguards the fundamental rights of our fellow citizens. In this regard, there is a need to regulate appropriately certain uses of Artificial Intelligence applications in the justice field, those that constitute a “high-risk”. The concept of “high-risk” AI uses is part of the Commission’s proposal for an Artificial Intelligence Act adopted in April this year. I am aware that some discussions on what these uses would be in the justice area have already started and this is very welcome.
Finally, it is important to stay conscious that increased digitalisation comes along with increased cybersecurity risks. Recent incidents demonstrated that not even the technological giants of today are immune to these threats. In the sensitive justice area, the impact of potential cybersecurity breaches cannot be overstated. It therefore requires that the justice systems of the future are not just “digital by default”, but also “secure by default”.
The protection of personal data transiting through justice systems needs also to be taken very seriously.
We must always bear in mind the principle of data protection by “design and by default”. As Commissioner for Justice, allow me to say a few words on the role of the EU and the Commission’s work towards the digitalisation of the European area of justice, security and freedom. As of its 2021 edition, the Commission complemented the EU Justice Scoreboard with comprehensive data on the state of digitalisation of Member States’ justice systems. While the data shows that some Member States are quite advanced, there is a clear need for further progress and convergence. In this regard, I warmly welcome that a number of Member States have planned ambitious digitalisation of justice investments and reforms under the EU Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). This is perhaps a once-in-a generation opportunity not only to bounce back from the ill effects of the pandemic, but also to step up modernisation endeavours across the Union in a major way.
Obviously, next to the RRF, the EU will continue to support national modernisation reforms through the cohesion policy instruments and the appropriate programmes.
I also see a clear need to take tangible steps towards modernising how our Member States’ judicial authorities cooperate and communicate across national borders. Likewise, we should provide individuals and businesses with modern means to exercise their rights provided under EU law. Therefore, this year the Commission intends to adopt three legislative proposals aimed at a major “digital upgrade” of the European area of freedom, security and justice.
Didier Reynders, EU-commissaris Justitie