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The significance of effective legal protection and access to justice is underscored in the EU Council’s conclusions, vital for upholding and enforcing the rights enshrined in both the Charter and EU legislation.

 Introduction

On 5 March 2024, the Council of the EU adopted Conclusions regarding the European Commission’s annual report on the application of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (the Charter). The Commission has been issuing thematic annual reports since 2021, focusing on strategically significant areas. The 2023 Charter report emphasises the importance of effective legal protection and access to justice, crucial for ensuring the full enforcement of the Charter and EU legislation and for safeguarding the rights they uphold. The 2023 Annual report on the application of the Charter delves into this critical area, aligning with the thematic approach outlined in the 2020 Strategy aimed at reinforcing the application of the Charter in the EU.

An insight into the Council’s conclusions

In its Conclusions, the Council reaffirmed its dedication to upholding the principles outlined in the Charter and recognised the need for robust legal safeguards, accessible justice systems, and measures to bolster public trust in the judiciary.

To ensure that all individuals have the ability to seek and obtain fair resolution of legal matters through legal and judicial channels, the EU has developed a comprehensive legal framework. Recognising the role of digital technologies within this context, the Council highlighted the ability to leverage such technologies for more efficient and accessible justice systems, in line with EU legislation and Digital Decade targets for 2030. It acknowledged both benefits and risks of digital justice and artificial intelligence (AI), stressing the need for careful management to protect fundamental rights, particularly for those that face barriers with navigating digital environments.

Specific measures that the Member States need to take

Playing a pivotal role in safeguarding fundamental rights through effective legal protection and access to justice, Member States are asked to implement certain remedies:

  1. To enhance access to information and awareness regarding legal rights and procedures related to effective legal protection and access to justice. This includes providing information through accessible media formats tailored to the needs of all individuals, particularly those with limited literacy or digital skills.
  2. To eliminate financial barriers hindering access to justice. This involves considering the specific needs of victims and vulnerable individuals. Member States were also prompted to explore other measures to improve the affordability of justice for all.
  3. To use and promote safe, secure and accessible digital technologies in the area of justice, while ensuring respect for fundamental rights and other possible implications.
  4. To promote comprehensive initial and ongoing training for judicial, prosecutorial, legal, and law enforcement professionals.

Focus on Cyprus’ accomplishments and hurdles

Cyprus faces challenges in achieving digitalised justice, as evidenced by the difficulties in implementing the eJustice system. Despite initially implementing the iJustice system nationwide in 2021, the subsequent introduction of the eJustice system aimed at enhancing judicial efficiency and resolving delays ultimately proved unsuccessful which led to a reversion to the previous electronic case registration system.

The report highlights both the accomplishments and obstacles faced by Member States in delivering adequate remedies to ensure effective legal protection within the realms governed by EU law, as mandated by Article 19(1) of the TFEU. With regard to Cyprus, the report contains specific observations.

Accomplishments

  • In addressing sensitive cases involving sexual violence or children, Cyprus has demonstrated a commitment to prioritising these matters. In 2021, legislative amendments were enacted to streamline non-judicial procedures for juvenile offenders, alongside the establishment of specialised children’s courts.
  • Moreover, Cyprus has contributed significantly to consumer legislation, ensuring a comprehensive array of civil, criminal, and administrative remedies accessible through both courts and consumer protection services.
  • Cyprus's National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) has undertaken impactful awareness-raising campaigns focused on enhancing access to justice.
  • Furthermore, with support from the European Commission, Cyprus has embarked on a comprehensive modernisation initiative for its civil procedure rules. This endeavour commenced with a meticulous review of the outdated civil procedure rules, aligning them with contemporary and more efficient methodologies. The culmination of this effort which involved a collaborative drafting process, resulted in the implementation of new Civil Procedure Rules which are effective from 1 September 2023. This milestone marks a significant evolution in Cyprus's legal landscape, ensuring the applicability of modern regulations to all cases filed after this date.

Hurdles

  • Under the 'horizontal enabling condition' framework, the Commission evaluates Member States' financial programs to ensure Charter compliance in EU Funds implementation. While the Commission has confirmed that most Member States comply, Cyprus, declared non-compliant, remains under review.
  • Regarding rights in criminal proceedings, Cyprus remains one of several Member States that faces challenges with the fundamental principle of the presumption of innocence. Issues arise particularly concerning the adequacy of remedies available to defendants who are publicly portrayed as guilty, impacting their right to a fair trial.
  • The Committee on the Rights of the Child, in its observations on Cyprus's reports, recommends ensuring children's rights to be heard in legal proceedings, providing competent legal representation for separated and unaccompanied children in asylum cases, and establishing a formal procedure to determine the best interests of the child.

Conclusion

Recognising the vital role of Member States, the Commission's acknowledgment of their achievements and challenges spurred the Council to pinpoint key issues and propose actions to bolster legal protection within the EU framework. The onus now falls on Member States to implement measures aimed at breaking the cycle of persistent challenges.

 

By Michaella Karapatea

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