The EJSF’s flagship event is the annual high level EJSF plenary bringing together senior legal and justice stakeholders from the EU institutions and EJSF private sector members to discuss and seek solutions on major issues affecting the practice of law and justice in the European Union.

Expressions of interest for topics for future EJSF plenaries are also welcome. Contact us here.

The inaugural EJSF plenary in February 2016 – which also officially launched the Forum – took place in the European Economic & Social Committee (EESC) and was co-hosted by MEP Mr Pavel SVOBODA, chair of the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee and EESC member Mr Arno METZLER.

Focusing on the overall theme of ‘The Future of Justice in the EU: challenges & opportunities’, the event brought together prominent representatives of the EU justice sector (the Union institutions included), the Council of Europe, academia and the legal profession in order to discuss and agree on working solutions to some of the key challenges facing the justice sector. The discussions focused on three specific topics: the impact of technology on the future of EU justice; migration and the rule of law; and the increasing role of international courts in law making. Among the distinguished speakers taking part were: Věra JOUROVA, the Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality; Tiina ASTOLA, the newly appointed Director-General, DG Justice (Commission); Lord Justice Geoffrey VOS, President of the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary (ENJC); Diana WALLIS, President of the European Law Institute (ELI) – see ELI press release,  Christos GIAKOUMOPOULOS, Director of Human Rights, Council of Europe, Dr Wolfgang HEUSEL, Director Academy of European Law (ELA), Trier – see ERA press release,  and Dr Hans CORELL, former Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and the Legal Counsel of the United Nations Co-Chair of the Council of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute – see his speech.

In her keynote speech Commissioner JOUROVA emphasised the major role of EU justice policy in enforcing fundamental rights, the rule of law and citizens’ rights. Mr Svoboda highlighted the important role of IT and e-justice, not only in terms of enhancing cooperation between national judicial systems but also for citizens’ access to other judicial systems. He reiterated his support for the EJSF initiative and the opportunities it offers for sharing experience and addressing key challenges and issues. In the closing address, Ms ASTOLA commented on the need for the legal community to engage in discussion on societal issues and to maintain a constant dialogue so as to ensure that the law meets the needs of citizens and practitioners. Finally, Mr METZLER concluded the event by thanking the organisers and reiterating his support for the EJSF as a mouthpiece for EU citizens.

See the full programme here. For more information about the inaugural EJSF plenary, February 2016, see the European Parliament Legal Affairs Committee newsletter of March 2016 (page 9).

The overall theme of the 2nd EJSF plenary, in April 2017 was ‘Access to Effective Justice for EU Citizens’. The event took place in the EESC, hosted by Mr Arno METZLER, Vice President Group III.

The high level participants included four Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) including Therese COMODINI CACHIA, MT, EPP who delivered the opening speech. European Commission Director for fundamental rights, Paul NEMITZ made the closing statement. Judge Wojciech POSTULSKI, Secretary General of the European Judicial Training Network (EJTN) delivered a lunchtime address on the importance of judicial training as a key tool of timely and high quality justice. See EJTN press release.

The plenary discussion focused on three main topics: (i) digitalisation and access to justice, (ii) EU citizenship in the light of Brexit, (iii) the UN Global Principles on Business and Human Rights for lawyers, citizens and business. See full programme HERE and European Parliament Legal Affairs Committee newsletter of May 2017 (page 8).

The 3rd EJSF plenary took place on 6 November 2018. Hosted once again by Arno Metzler, President Group III (Diversity Group) in the EESC, this year’s discussion was on ‘Upholding the EU values in Article 2 TEU – What are they? Why are they important? How can the EU justice sector protect and communicate them to EU citizens?’

Keynote speakers were Vice President of the European Parliament, MEP Heidi HAUTALA and Commission Director of fundamental rights and the rule of law, Emmanuel CRABIT. The high level panel discussion, which included Gabriel TOGGENBURG, Director EU Fundamental Rights Agency, Vienna and Monique VAN DER GOES, European Networks of Councils of the Judiciary, was moderated by Eric DELTOUR, senior partner at Decherts law firm. See here for the full programme.

The EU values including democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights are under threat in Europe and globally. Fuelled by rising populism and protectionism, the independence of the judiciary, freedom of the press and free and fair elections are being challenged.

An open exchange by speakers and participants including legal practitioners, civil society, corporate counsel and EU officials emphasised the importance of legal training so that EU lawyers in all the Member States understood the EU values and could thus better communicate them to EU citizens.

Education about the EU values in schools across Europe is key. Better communication in general of the EU values. Lawyers and the justice professions have a key role to play in this. Concrete initiatives by the EU institutions including Article 7 procedures against Poland and Hungary are welcome but more is needed. Lawyers need to speak out. They must stand up, be seen and make others aware of rule of law issues because these are undermining democratic trust in Europe.

On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the entry into force of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, the theme of the 4th EJSF annual plenary, on 19 November, was ‘Rights under threat – how can the EU Fundamental Rights Charter work better for citizens?’ The event was co-hosted with the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) and took place as usual in the European Economic & Social Committee (EESC), Brussels, chaired by Arno Metzler, President of the EESC Diversity Group.

Keynote addresses were made by Gabriel TOGGENBURG, FRA and Johanna SUURPÄÄ, Director-General, Department for Democracy and Public Law, Finland (representing Finland’s EU Council Presidency – 2nd half 2019). Jacquelyn MACLENNAN, Partner White & Case moderated a panel made up of speakers including MEP Gwendoline DELBOS-CORFIELD and Zeta GEORGIADOU, Deputy Head of Unit for fundamental rights, European Commission. See here for the full programme.

Speakers and participants discussed the current threat to the EU’s values enshrined in Article 2 of the Lisbon Treaty and in the EU Charter. Respect for basic rights, democracy and the rule of law are being undermined by a wide range of issues from populism and protectionism to cybersecurity threats. Legal practitioners, as those closest to citizens where law and justice are in question, play a vital role in ensuring that EU laws and values and the rights of citizens are protected and that emerging threats are brought to the fore, addressed and reflected in EU law and policymaking.

There has been an increase in the number of cases before the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) where citizens’ rights, based on the EU Charter, particularly on data protection and privacy, have been upheld. Despite this, only a quarter of those responding to a FRA survey of civil society organisations said they used the Charter often. Clearly, more needs to be done to raise awareness about the EU Charter and the rights contained therein.

Legal practitioners including notaries, accompany citizens and deal with many such rights including family issues eg the right to marry, to property and the rights of the child. Protecting fundamental rights in a wider context was also discussed eg promoting sustainability as a value that competition law should uphold and in the context of technological developments such as human-centred Artificial Intelligence.

Looking ahead, the European Commission will encourage activities to promote the EU Charter such as greater cooperation between national authorities, partnering with human rights organisations and awareness campaigns with citizens.

For more information about the next EJSF plenary, please contact us here