FRA report reveals significant challenges to effective access to justice in the EU

Cover of the FRA report on Access to Justice
Cover of the FRA report on Access to Justice
23/03/2011
Today, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) is launching its report Access to justice in Europe: an overview of challenges and opportunities. The report will be launched in Budapest at the conference ‘Protecting victims in the EU: the road ahead', hosted by the Hungarian Presidency of the Council of the EU, with the support of the FRA. The report provides a comparative analysis of access to justice across the EU Member States and finds that there are many obstacles that make it difficult for victims to enforce their rights. This report relates mainly to civil and administrative procedures available to victims of discrimination. Although its focus is the area of non-discrimination law, its findings are generally applicable to civil and administrative procedures as a whole.

Access to justice guaranteed by law, but not in practice

FRA Director Morten Kjaerum: "For rights to be made effective, victims need to be able to enforce them by having their cases decided by a court or other similar body. However, FRA research shows that in practice there are a number of barriers to this."

For example, 22 of the 27 EU Member States apply the rule that the losing side in a court case should pay the legal costs of the winning side. The risk of losing puts victims off bringing cases, even if they have a strong claim.

The report reveals several problems that result in victims being deterred or unable to enforce their rights by taking cases to court:

  • excessive length of proceedings appears to be the most frequent challenge across Member States;
  • high legal costs including lawyers' fees and court fees;
  • restrictive rules on who may take a case to court. This is often limited to the victim, rather than allowing other bodies to bring cases, such as non-governmental organisations, trade unions or national equality bodies;
  • a high degree of variation among Member States on the amounts of compensation awarded, which in some cases appear too low to act as a deterrent or fully compensate for the harm suffered.

The report also finds promising practices in some Member States, such as:

  • expedited procedures
  • insurance covering legal fees
  • legal advice centres or pro bono work offering victims free legal advice and representation
  • simple procedures where victims can represent themselves
  • alternatives to going to court to settle disputes, such as mediation or other non-judicial mechanisms
  • generous rules of legal standing allowing non-governmental organisations or other interested and specialised bodies to bring claims

Related FRA publications on this issue:

Find the full report here: Access to justice in Europe: an overview of challenges and opportunities

For more background information, see national thematic studies.

For further information please contact the FRA Media Team
E-mail: media@fra.europa.eu
Tel.: +43 158 030 642

Notes to editors:

  • The right of access to justice includes the right to a fair trial, the right to have one's case decided within a reasonable time, and the right to a remedy, such as compensation. This right is recognised by Articles 6 and 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights, Articles 2 and 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Article 47 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
  • The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) is mandated to provide evidence-based advice to decision-makers in the EU. The Agency's evidence aims to inform EU and national policy makers and to contextualise debates on fundamental rights in the European Union.
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