EU Digitalisation Regulation: Unveiling the EU’s Comprehensive Approach to Digital Transformation and Judicial Modernisation

A Comprehensive Overview of the EU’s Legislative Revolution and Digitalisation Initiatives

The European Union (EU) places a significant emphasis on digital transformation, undergoing a legislative revolution in the digital domain. Spearheading this transformation is the Europe’s Digital Decade policy programme, introduced by the European Commission. This program outlines concrete targets for 2030, encompassing areas such as skills development, secure and sustainable digital infrastructures, the digital transformation of businesses, and the digitisation of public services. Notable initiatives include the Digital Markets Act (DMA), Data Governance Act (DGA), Data Act, Chips Act, Digital Services Act (DSA), and Artificial Intelligence Act.

In addition to enforcing existing competition, privacy, and consumer protection laws, the EU actively adopted Regulation 2023/2844 which seeks to advance the digitalisation of judicial cooperation and access to justice in cross-border civil, commercial, and criminal matters. This focus aligns with the recognition that effective justice systems are crucial for the internal market’s functioning and serve as a prerequisite for economic growth. The European Commission’s commitment to modernising EU justice systems is exemplified by the recent adoption of the Digitalisation Regulation. This comprehensive initiative comprises two main pillars: a Communication on the digitalisation of justice in the EU and European judicial training. Regulation (EU) 2023/2844 will become effective on the 20th day after its publication in the Official Journal and will be enforceable starting from May 1, 2025. However, Articles 3 and 4 will come into effect from the first day of the month following a two-year period after the enactment of the corresponding implementing acts as referenced in Article 10(3). These implementing acts establish the decentralised IT system for each of the legal acts listed in Annexes I and II. Articles 3 and 4 will be applicable to proceedings initiated from the date specified in paragraph 3 of Article 26 of Regulation (EU) 2023/2844 (Chapter IX, Article 26). The Digitalisation Regulation introduces a digital justice toolbox, designed to assist Member States in transitioning their national justice systems into the digital era. Simultaneously, it aims to enhance cross-border judicial cooperation among competent authorities within the EU. Regarding European judicial training, the Commission endeavours to equip judges, prosecutors, and justice professionals to navigate 21st-century challenges, particularly those posed by digitalisation. Furthermore, it seeks to foster a common European judicial culture founded on the principles of the rule of law, fundamental rights, and mutual trust. This multifaceted approach reflects the EU’s commitment to shaping a digitally adept and harmonised legal landscape.

An insight into the Provisions of the Digitalisation Regulation

The Digitalisation Regulation establishes guidelines for utilising electronic communication in judicial cooperation procedures across civil, commercial, and criminal matters, as well as electronic communication between individuals or entities and competent authorities in civil and commercial proceedings (Art. 1). To facilitate this, the regulation outlines the decentralised IT system (Art. 3) and the European electronic access point (Art. 4). Moreover, the regulation permits the use of videoconferencing or other distance communication technologies in civil and commercial matters, with considerations for specific provisions covered under Regulation No 2020/1783 (Evidence Regulation), Regulation No 861/2007, and Regulation No 655/2014 (Art. 5). It also addresses electronic signatures and seals (Art. 7) and specifies the legal implications of electronic documents (Art. 8). Notably, the Digitalisation Regulation excludes the Evidence Regulation and Regulation No 2020/1784 (Service Regulation) because these regulations “already provide for specific rules on digitalisation of judicial cooperation” (recital 17). However, it does bring about certain modifications to the Service Regulation.

Specific measures that the Member States need to take

To ensure efficient cooperation among justice systems, a uniform digital information technology instrument must be established at the Union level.  Legal professionals should be actively involved in this digital transformation. Digitalisation of proceedings should prioritise access to justice for all, including persons with disabilities. The decentralised IT system and the European electronic access point established by this Regulation should comply with web accessibility requirements. Additionally, electronic payment methods should adhere to accessibility standards. Member States must allocate sufficient resources to improve citizens’ digital skills and literacy, ensuring that a lack of digital proficiency does not hinder access to the decentralised IT system. Training should be provided to justice professionals to effectively use the system, addressing challenges that may arise during virtual proceedings or hearings. This Regulation covers the digitalisation of communication in cases with cross-border implications falling under certain Union legal acts. Communication between competent authorities and Union bodies should also be included. Determining whether a case has cross-border implications should be based on the legal acts listed in the annexes. If national law governs a communication procedure between competent authorities explicitly stated in these legal acts, this Regulation does not apply.

Understanding the Imperative Shift Towards Digital Justice in Response to COVID-19

In the past decade, both the Commission and Member States have recognised the importance of efficient justice systems and have initiated several measures, yielding positive results in the digitalisation of justice. However, despite these efforts, cross-border judicial cooperation still heavily relies on paper-based data exchanges, which is slower and less efficient than electronic methods. The limited integration of technology across EU Member States in legal proceedings, coupled with slow progress or even regression in the digitalisation of national proceedings, has left access to justice vulnerable, particularly during crises. The prolonged impact of the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the shortcomings of systems lacking comprehensive e-justice solutions when physical access to court premises is restricted. The challenges faced during the pandemic underscored the urgency of modernising and digitising justice processes, emphasising the need for dematerialisation to ensure the continuity of services in any environment—whether physical or digital. The crisis revealed the inadequacy of traditional court procedures, emphasising the necessity for evolving beyond physical presence and reliance on paper documents.

Examining the Impacts and Challenges of the Digitalisation Regulation in Cyprus and Beyond

 The Digitalisation Regulation, wielding binding legal force across Cyprus, establishes a pivotal foundation for technological integration. While national governments are not compelled to take direct action for EU regulation implementation, the efficacy of cross-border Information and Communication Technology (ICT) solutions hinges on national commitment to ICT adoption. Cyprus, taking a monumental stride in its digital transformation, recently embraced e-justice on December 18, 2023, a step which shows its willingness to implement and use ICT. Despite this commendable progress, persistent issues related to the dysfunctionality of the e-justice system have compelled legal practitioners to revert to physical registrations, rather than embracing the anticipated transition to the new digital era, even after the enactment of the Electronic Justice Procedural Regulation of 2024. This highlights the insufficient development of appropriate channels and tools to enhance the efficiency and quality of the judicial system, casting doubt on Cyprus’s ability to ensure effective digital cooperation within the justice systems as mandated by the regulation.

Nevertheless, tools have been developed for the digital exchange of case-related data.Member States should be able to utilise the software developed by the Commission rather than implementing a national IT system. This approach eliminates the necessity for costly replacements or modifications to existing IT systems already established across Member States. Despite the legal community of Cyprus resorting to the interim i-justice system, featuring only partial digitisation, efforts are underway to rectify issues in the e-justice platform, aiming to reinstate its functionality. Once fully operational, the e-justice system could serve as a solid foundation for the e-Codex system. The e-Justice Communication via the On-line Data Exchange (e-CODEX) system, established under Regulation (EU) 2022/850 of the European Parliament and of the Council, represents a leading tool developed to ensure swift, direct, interoperable, sustainable, reliable, and secure cross-border electronic exchange of case-related data between competent authorities.

Apart from that, there is a noteworthy gap in the current legal provisions. This gap could potentially impede the journey towards creating a more interconnected European legal landscape. The Regulation’s oversight lies in the absence of minimum standards and requirements for ICT solutions. Member states are left to individual decisions, resulting in a fragmented cross-border framework. This situation poses an additional challenge as it underscores the imperative need to foster interoperability while simultaneously preserving the integrity of national justice systems.

However, every four years, starting from the enactment of Article 10(3)(d), the Commission shall evaluate the Regulation. The evaluation shall include the impact of electronic communication on fairness in cross-border legal proceedings. If necessary, the Commission may propose legislation requiring Member States to provide videoconferencing technology, specifying standards and ensuring judicial cooperation for access during proceedings (Art. 16). In contrast to the concerns raised about the Digitalisation Regulation, this proactive approach ensures that shortcomings in the current legal provisions can be addressed, fostering a more cohesive and adaptable framework for cross-border cooperation in the long run.

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