Justice issues in Europe - Justice Committee Contents

5  Cost and benefits for UK citizens

The potential proliferation of costs

118.  Many commentators consider it likely that there will be a proliferation in the volume of legislation passed in the area of criminal justice following the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty.[237] We asked the Government about the extent to which costs will be a factor influencing the capacity of the member states to implement measures to place citizens "at the heart of the EU"; particularly when economic circumstances have reduced public expenditure across Europe. Lord Bach acknowledged the importance of this issue. On the "road map" measures, he suggested that the UK is "highly unlikely to incur any costs let alone significant costs"—following the implementation of the Stockholm programme—because the UK legal system already fulfils, and in some cases exceeds, its European Convention on Human Rights obligations (for example through legal aid provision and the notification of rights to suspects and defendants).[238] However, the costs of free-of-charge interpretation and translation of an appropriate quality in pre-trial proceedings may be a new cost falling on the public purse. The Government has not provided an estimate of the costs of the first draft of the directive, but we understand that, in the UK, a range of video-conferencing facilities are already in place which could be used to facilitate cross-border interpretation.[239]

119.  The Government does not seem clear about how it will control costs if the UK opts in to "road map" measures that create obligations on the Government to provide costly services implementing new rights and protections. As more information is made available to EU citizens, so they will be more aware of their rights when they are suspected of committing an offence.

120.  Our witnesses suggested that there were many measures in the Stockholm programme, and the Lisbon Treaty, that had cost implications. The Government is clear that its participation in specific projects at EU level depends on the costs of participation and the likely savings, or added value, that would be achieved.[240] The Ministry of Justice acknowledged that, while the costs involved in European projects can sometimes be significant, these may be off-set to some extent by the savings; although the complexity of the measures in question makes it difficult to determine cost-benefit implications with any certainty.[241]

121.  The Government stated that it was unable to cost the entire Stockholm programme but explained that cost-benefit analysis will be conducted measure-by-measure as they are proposed.[242] We were assured by officials that financial costs are factored in to Government decisions on participation, and that such considerations form part of the scrutiny undertaken by the European Scrutiny Committees of both Houses.[243] However, when we asked for illustrations of the potential financial impact of various mutual recognition instruments and other mechanisms which were due for implementation (for example, the European supervision order and the e-justice portal) as well as those that have been in operation for some time (including the European arrest warrant) the Department was not able to provide them.[244]

122.  It appears to be particularly difficult to ascertain the cost implications of transferring elements of the administration of justice to other member states, to inform impact assessments prior to the introduction of measures that rely on mutual recognition. For example, the Framework decision on the mutual recognition of financial penalties allows fines, compensation and court costs imposed in criminal proceedings in one member state to be transferred and enforced in another. Thus, fines may be collected in the UK based on judgments against UK nationals—who subsequently return to the UK—by courts in other member states.[245] Yet, no information is collected about financial penalties imposed by other member states and thus the Government is unable to estimate the revenue foregone as a result of delays in implementation, nor to monitor the success of the measure in terms of percentage of fines collected.[246] It is equally difficult to make such assessments after implementation.[247]

123.  E-justice (use of technology in innovative ways with the justice field) is one of the areas where implementation often requires considerable financial input, although the application of technology to justice systems can potentially result in savings in Court costs and legal aid by speeding up the processes involved. For example, the European Commission has accumulated emerging evidence of savings made in Norway[248] and Austria, in piloting e-justice tools. Norway has estimated it saves 785 Euros in travel time each time a video-conference takes place and Austria calculated overall savings of 80,000 Euros per year during the early stages of implementation of video-conferencing facilities. Mr Faull described the initial investment in the e-Portal of two million Euros as a "modest start".[249] The Justice secretary has commented on the costs of e-justice:

There is no compulsion for member states to be involved in individual European e-justice projects and the decision about whether or not we will fund participation in particular projects will be made by the appropriate budget holding department on a case by case.[250]

We agree with the Government's proposal that comprehensive analysis of current EU funding streams should be undertaken, to ensure that they are used effectively to support the e-justice strategy.

124.  There may also be budgetary implications arising from the growth in the remit of the Court of Justice.[251] For example, the capacity of the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg is limited: it currently has around 108,000 cases in front of it. The average time taken from lodging to hearing on this basis is 6 years. In the event 95% of cases are not continued.[252] However, once the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights enters into force there is the potential for EU citizens to receive much faster and more effective justice if human rights cases are taken to the Court of Justice—which has recently introduced a system of speedy referrals—in relation to obligations under the Charter.[253]

125.  We accept that costing the entire Stockholm programme is very difficult, but we are surprised that the Government has been unable to give us at least an indication of the cost implications of key measures contained within it.

126.  We believe that, while the cost of these e-justice technologies may inhibit speedy progress, the Commission should seek to consolidate funding for e-justice projects in order to ensure that the best can be made of innovative technology in the interests of all member states and their citizens.

237   HL Paper (Session 2007-08) 62-I, para 6.27 Back

238   Q 247 [Lord Bach] Back

239   Q 247 [Lord Bach], Ev 105-106 Back

240   Ev 105 Back

241   Q 258 [Ms Gibbons] Back

242   Q 250 [Mr Kilby] Back

243   Q 255 [Ms Gibbons] Back

244   Ev 103-104 Back

245   Qq 18-20 Back

246   See also Ev 104 on the potential impact of the Prisoner transfer agreement on the number of EU nationals detained in British prisons Back

247   Q 20 [Ms Gibbons] Back

248   While Norway is not a member of the EU it is a member of the European Economic Area, Schengen and the European Judicial Network Back

249   Q 91 Back

250   HC Deb, 24 March 2009, col 304 [Commons written answer] Back

251   HL Paper (Session 2007-08) 62-I, paras 6.90-6.95  Back

252   Q 134 [Ms Blackstock] Back

253   Qq 134, 141 [Ms Blackstock, Mrs Mole] Back

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