Around two-thirds of people living in Belgium have faith in the independence of the national judicial system, according to the European Commission’s annual EU Justice Scoreboard published on Thursday.
The general public’s perception of the independence of courts and judges became more favourable in the last five years and increased from 62% rating their independence as high in 2016 to 66% in 2021.
“The EU Justice Scoreboard is a pillar of our policy to ensure the effectiveness of justice systems throughout the EU. This analytical tool provides valuable insights into the justice systems of the Member States,” said Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders, in a press release.
Belgium ranked 11th out of all the member states when it comes to faith in the system’s independence, behind Germany, Finland and Austria.
However, the public’s perception of independence decreased in about two-fifths of all Member States, including in Cyprus, Hungary and Poland, countries at the bottom of the ranking.
Interference or pressure from government and politicians was the most widely stated reason for the perceived lack of independence, however, this could also in part be due to the coronavirus crisis, according to Vice-President for Values and Transparency, Věra Jourová.
“The fact that the perception of independence of the judiciary further decreased during the pandemic in some countries worries me. Politicians should resist the temptation to use the pandemic as an excuse to pressure independent judges,” she said.
The report stressed that the pandemic also highlighted the need for the Member States to modernise their justice systems, as the digitisation of justice was what kept courts functioning during lockdowns, and “more generally made justice systems more accessible and efficient”.
“Even though the Scoreboard shows that in the majority of Member States, courts already use different digital solutions, such as block-chain and artificial intelligence, to the benefit of the citizens, significant room for improvement remains,” the report read.
Belgium, for example, ranks low in the EU in terms of the use of digital technology by courts and public prosecutors, electronic communication tools in courts or in the public prosecutor’s office, or in terms of using digital solutions to initiate and follow up proceedings in cases.
The findings will contribute to the monitoring carried out in the framework of the European Rule of Law Mechanism and will feed into the Commission’s upcoming Rule of Law Report, which will give Member States information on how to guarantee structural independence of the justice systems.