On May 28, the European Commission published the 2018 EU Justice Scoreboard, which analyzes and compares the effectiveness, quality and independence of the judicial systems in the EU Member States. The 28 EU Member States took part in the preparation of the report, providing both statistics and describing the situation regarding various legal issues.

Compared to previous years, in the 2018 report there are more developed directions that explore aspects of the independence of the judiciary, as well as the activities of the Council for the Judiciary and involvement of other branches of state power in the work of the judiciary (selection and appointment of judges, chairs of courts, etc.).

For the first time, data on the length of proceedings in all three levels of courts are collected. This publication also focuses on EU-funded projects in the national judicial systems of the Member States in order to see the breakdown of investments by fields. This year's report includes a comparison of the effectiveness of judicial systems regarding examination of money laundering cases and also provides the first overview of the work organization of the public prosecutor's offices in the Member States.

Looking at the average length of proceedings in all three levels of courts in 2016 in the field of civil and commercial matters, Latvia has average, stable performance indicators (similar to Finland).

Looking at the deadlines necessary for the handling of contentious administrative cases, Latvia ranks 11th (Lithuania and Estonia are in the leading positions); however, it should be noted that in many countries these results are similar. Extremely lengthy administrative proceedings are in Cyprus, Malta, Greece, Italy and Portugal.

The backlog of administrative cases in Latvian courts is one of the lowest in the EU (at first court instance per 100 inhabitants) (similar indicators are in Hungary, Estonia, Poland, Malta, Slovenia and the Czech Republic). In terms of the backlog of civil cases (per 100 inhabitants), Latvia ranks 11th. In Latvia, in the years 2015 and 2016, the average amount of resources spent on the judiciary was 51 euro per inhabitant (more than in Lithuania and Estonia), or 0.4% of gross domestic product (ranked 6th in Europe).

Latvia, like Estonia, Spain, Lithuania and the Netherlands, has received the highest score on the use of social media in all levels of courts and the existence of guidelines for cooperation with the media/press. Latvia is also highlighted as one of the five EU countries (alongside the Czech Republic, Estonia, Lithuania and Hungary), where there is a possibility to electronically file an application and follow up the proceedings.

In matters concerning the extent of legal aid and court fees, Latvia has relatively low rates. For example, Latvia has the fourth highest court fee for an examination of disputes regarding small claims of customers (following Cyprus, Finland and Estonia)

The number of advocates per 100 000 inhabitants in Latvia is the second lowest in the EU – Sweden ranks 1st. The highest number of advocates is in Cyprus, Luxembourg, Greece and Italy.

The report also states that Latvia has the highest proportion of female judges in first and second instance courts throughout the EU. In Latvia, in the courts of first instance, 81% of judges are women, while in courts of appeal – over 75%. In the Supreme Court the proportion of female judges constitute 60% (lower than in Romania and Bulgaria).

If the overall attitude of the EU member states towards the independence of the judiciary is compared, then Latvia has an average rating. Traditionally, Danes, Finns and Austrians have the highest assessment of their judicial systems. The Latvian society's assessment is similar to those of Lithuania, Portugal, Romania and Malta. In this case, the EU Justice Scoreboard has used the results of the Eurobarometer Survey, which concludes that 47% of the surveyed residents of Latvia believe that the Latvian judicial system is independent.

In turn, according to the data of the World Economic Forum, the assessment of the independence of the judiciary is similar to previous years, however, in several countries, in the course of years 2016-2017 the assessment has downgraded (for example, in Latvia, Sweden, Belgium, Poland, Croatia).

This year's Report addresses the issue of the selection procedure of judges represented in the Council for the Judiciary (it is noted that in several countries the judges for the work in the Council for the Judiciary are selected by the legislative or the executive power).

An interesting comparison is offered regarding the issue viewed in the Report on the involvement of the Supreme Courts of the Member States in the performance of various functions relating to issues related to non-appointment or dismissal of a judge, to assessment of judges’ performance and career advancement, disciplinary proceedings, and the issue regarding the assessment of impartiality of judges. In cooperation with the cooperation institutions working for the supreme courts in the Member States, statistics were collected on the number of cases regarding each specific function (2012-2017). The leader in many cases is Poland (the highest number of unappointed judges, the number of disciplinary cases, the number of complaints about the lack of judges’ neutrality).

 

Summary prepared by Dace Šulmane, Adviser to the Secretariat of the Council for the Judiciary