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Civil Justice

In a Europe of open borders there are many occasions that may lead to citizens finding themselves before a court of another EU country.

An increase of cross-border disputes

The increasing use of the rights of free movement of persons, goods and services results inevitably in an increase in the potential number of cross-border disputes.

For example:

  • individuals may be involved in an accident while on holiday;
  • they may order, over the Internet, goods from abroad which are never dispatched or which turn out to be faulty;
  • a parent may have left with the children and settled in another country without the consent of the other parent.

In a genuine European area of justice, individuals should not be prevented or discouraged from exercising their rights. The incompatibility and complexity of legal or administrative systems in EU countries should not be a barrier.

Judicial co-operation

The EU has put in place a number of measures designed to help individuals with cross-border litigation. It aims to ensure that people can approach courts and authorities in any EU country as easily as in their own.

The main tools for facilitating access to cross-border justice are:

  • the principle of mutual recognition, based on mutual trust between EU countries;
  • direct judicial cooperation between national courts.

More than 20 legislative instruments have been put in place at European level over the last decade.

Judicial cooperation in civil matters means that clear rules exist on questions such as:

  • which EU country has jurisdiction;
  • which court is competent;
  • which law is applicable; and
  • ensuring that judgments in one country are recognised and enforced in other countries without difficulties.

Alternative dispute resolution methods, such as mediation, have also played a big part in easing cross-border conflicts.

How civil justice contributes to EU economic growth

If people and businesses are to take full advantage of the EU's single market, they need easy access to justice, on equal terms in all countries.
EU-wide rules are needed:

  • in cases of cross-border litigation
  • to ensure good cooperation between courts in different countries
  • so that court judgments can circulate freely throughout the EU.

The business environment can be significantly improved by:

  • better enforcement of commercial claims
  • simplifying the enforcement of judgments in cross-border disputes (cutting red tape and costs)
  • introducing rules to help creditors recover cross-border debt (63% of which is currently unclaimed)
  • modernising EU insolvency proceedings to help some firms stay in business which would otherwise not survive.

EU countries are also encouraged to make their judicial systems ever more efficient and implement necessary judicial reforms as part of their economic recovery programmes, thus contributing to the policy of the "Justice for Growth".