Enlargement, 3 years after
European Commission - Enlargement - Enlargement, 3 years after - Doing Justice to Europe
Doing justice to Europe: taking evidence in civil and commercial matters in Slovenia.
Have you ever had a car accident in another country? It happens quite often. Imagine that you are involved in a traffic accident, say, while travelling in Slovenia. Imagine that you are seriously injured. The accident was witnessed by a third person, who is a resident of Austria. As the injured party, you file a claim for damages against the other driver at the Ljubljana District Court. The accused driver denies any responsibility, so the only witness has to be heard. Because the witness lives in Austria, in former times the Court in Ljubljana would have had to approach the Slovenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which would have contacted its counterpart in Vienna. Letters would have been exchanged, requesting the Austrian authorities to find the witness, who would have had to either travel to Ljubljana or be heard by an Austrian authority. The results of the hearing would have then taken the same long bureaucratic path back to Slovenia. In the end, the whole procedure could have taken years.
Now that Slovenia – like all new Member States -- applies EU laws, the Ljubljana District Court can make a request for direct taking of evidence, addressed to the central authority in Austria, which may say in what languages it accepts requests – in this case both German and English, which makes things a bit easier. Once the request is sent and the Austrian authority agrees to it, a video conference is organized and the witness heard. The Ljubljana District Court judge conducts the hearing in Slovene, using a court-sworn interpreter. The witness is heard by the judge and both parties' attorneys, who are in the same room.
One of the things most of us like about living in the EU is the freedom we enjoy: freedom to travel, to study in other countries, to reside anywhere we want. The enjoyment of freedom requires a system of justice where people can approach courts and authorities in any Member State as easily as in their own. Judgments and decisions should be respected and enforced throughout the Union, while safeguarding the basic legal certainty, both of individuals and of businesses.
Before Slovenia joined the EU, the taking of evidence in cases involving people from outside the country was based on applicable bilateral agreements and the Hague Convention of 18 March 1970 on the taking of evidence abroad in civil and commercial matters. Procedures used to be long and complex, depending on the country.
Since becoming a Member State on 1 May 2004, Slovenia must apply European laws, like Council Regulation (EC) No 1206/2001 of 28 May 2001 on cooperation between the courts of the Member States in the taking of evidence in civil or commercial matters, which replaced the Hague Convention of 1970.
Like all Member States, Slovenia now applies this regulation. The result? It has improved, simplified and accelerated cooperation among courts in the taking of evidence, providing the basis for a speedier and simpler access to justice. This is one of the most effective ways of ensuring the right of citizens of all EU countries to move freely in the territory of other Member States. Making it easier and quicker to take evidence in civil and commercial cases is just another way the EU does justice to its citizens – and since 1 May 2004, almost half a billion of them, too!