Access to justice

Access to justice is a core fundamental right and a central concept in the broader field of justice. However, it is a right that faces a number of challenges throughout the EU.

While access to justice typically means having a case heard in a court of law, it can more broadly be achieved or supported through mechanisms such as national human rights institutions, equality bodies and ombudsman institutions, as well as the European Ombudsman at EU level. Yet, FRA research shows that access to justice is problematic in a number of EU Member States. This is due to several factors, including a lack of rights awareness and poor knowledge about the tools that are available to access justice (see EU-MIDIS, in particular Data in Focus report 3: Rights Awareness).

Drawing on its research findings, the Agency seeks to provide evidence-based advice to policy makers at EU and national level in order to improve awareness of and access to justice. This includes the provision of information about how to remove existing obstacles that hinder people’s ability to access justice, including groups such as children and migrants.

The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union guarantees the right to an effective remedy and to a fair trial, including legal aid to those who lack sufficient resources. At the same time, access to justice is also an enabling  right that allows those who perceive their rights as having been violated to enforce them and seek redress.



An important part of the FRA’s research and output in this area includes the identification of examples of good practices across the EU that can serve as a basis for future improvements through EU legislation and at national level.

Access to justice is a cross-cutting issue for a number of thematic areas of the FRA’s work. For example, the FRA 2009 European Union Minorities and Discrimination Survey (EU-MIDIS) showed that awareness of redress mechanisms (for discrimination) is very low, in particular among vulnerable groups such as minorities and immigrants.

Key among activities which cut across the various thematic areas – and with a close link to accessing justice – is the FRA’s work on human rights education and training. Tailored for and jointly developed with specific target audiences, education and training models support the implementation of fundamental rights and promotion of good practices. Through the development of material, implementation of training and contribution to existing training and curricula, the FRA contributes to supporting the training capacities of key stakeholders such as the European Commission; EU institutions, including agencies such as Frontex; NGOs and national institutions with a human rights remit.

See also: 
Key texts and policy documents

Key texts and policy documents

Relevant Annual Report chapters

Annual Report chapters related to access to justice

This page lists all annual report chapters from 2010 onwards which are relevant for the theme 'Access to justice'.

Annual Report 2011

  • Chapter 8 - Access to efficient and independent justice (pdf 828KB)
    This chapter covers developments in the EU and its Member States related to core issues of access to justice in general as well as defence rights, but excludes victims’ rights, as they are dealt with in Chapter 9. Additionally, Chapter 10, on obligations of states under international human rights law, discusses the complaints mechanisms under various treaties, which enhance access to justice at the international level. Chapters 5 and 6, dealing with equality and non‑discrimination, offer supplementary overviews of equality bodies, which are relevant to understanding access to justice. The thematic Focus of this Annual report on the fundamental rights architecture of the EU is, likewise, closely connected to this chapter. The Focus illustrates the interrelatedness of the variety of bodies operating at national, EU, Council of Europe and UN levels and how this plays out in various areas, not the least in the area of access to justice.
  • Chapter 9 - Rights of crime victims (pdf 713KB)
    This chapter explores key changes in EU and Member State legislation, policies and practices in the area of the rights of victims of crime in 2011. The chapter will first look at developments concerning all crime victims and then turn to groups of victims of particular forms of crime, namely: domestic violence, trafficking and severe forms of labour exploitation and hate crime. For key developments in the area of rights of child victims, see Chapter 4 on ‘The rights of the child and protection of children’, specifically for key developments in the area of the rights of child victims.
  • Chapter 10 - International obligations (pdf 1,378KB)
    This chapter traces changes in the level of formal commitment to international human rights obligations of EU Member States and the candidate country Croatia that took place between 1 January 2011 and 31 December 2011. It thereby updates the information provided in FRA’s last annual report on fundamental rights challenges and achievements in 2010.

Annual Report 2010

  • Chapter 8 - Access to efficient and independent justice (pdf 356KB)
    This chapter covers developments in EU and Member State policies and practices for the year 2010 in the area of access to justice including criminal law and civil law, insofar as these fall within EU competence. In order to gain a comprehensive overview of this area, it should be read together with Chapter 9 on Protection of victims, which focuses on the rights of victims of crimes, Chapter 5 on equality and non-discrimination, and Chapter 6 on racism and ethnic discrimination, dealing with the questions of rights awareness and equality bodies which are also relevant to access to justice.
  • Chapter 9 - Protection of victims (pdf 477KB)
    This chapter covers developments in EU and Member State policies and practices in the area of the rights of victims of crime for the year 2010. In order to gain a comprehensive overview of this area it should be read together with
    Chapter 8 on Access to justice, which focuses on developmentsrelating to access to justice in criminal and civil law. The chapter will first outline general developments in legal standards at the EU and Council of Europe levels. It will then move on to discuss particular areas where notable developments occurred in 2010, namely: protection of victims, including compensation and access to information; violence against women; and data collection and evidence-based policymaking.
  • Chapter 10 - International obligations (pdf 624KB)
    The European Union (EU) is not a ‘self-contained regime’; it operates – just as its Member States do – in an international environment and it is bound by international obligations. The year 2010 marked the debut of the modern post-Lisbon Union on the international stage, as discussions at EU level paved the way for the EU’s accession to international human rights treaties. Since EU Member States are already bound by a variety of international human rights obligations, the spheres of international law and EU law stand in a communicative process of cross- fertilisation. Against this background, it is of relevance to observe the developments in 2010 with regard to EU Member States’ international obligations.

Victims’ rights and support

Explore the mapping of victims’ rights and support in the EU online >> 

Maps and tables allow users to view some of the key aspects related to support services for victims of crime.


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Eurojust and FRA sign Memorandum of Understanding

The European Union’s Judicial Cooperation Unit (Eurojust) and the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) at the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) in Valletta, Malta on 3 November.

FRA-Eurojust cooperation agreement approved

On 8 October, the Council of the EU approved the Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation between the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights and Eurojust (the EU's Judicial Cooperation Unit).

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Handbook on access to justice in Europe

In partnership with the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ) and the European Court of Human Rights, FRA will produce a handbook which will highlight and summarise the key European legal and jurisprudential principles in the area of access to justice.

Severe forms of labour exploitation

The project looks at criminal exploitation of the work of EU and non-EU migrants. It aims to collect information on the nature of and responses to severe forms of labour exploitation across the EU. It builds on previous FRA research, particularly concerning irregular migrants in domestic work, and is linked to current work on victims’ rights and support.

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Victims of crime in the EU: the extent and nature of support for victims

The rights of victims of crime to access justice and to be protected against repeat victimisation may remain illusory in practice if the victim fails to receive professional advice and support. This research by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) examines support service provision for such victims across the 28 EU Member States, in line with the 2012 EU Victims’ Directive. It focuses not on abstract fundamental rights standards but on the final practical results.

Fundamental rights: key legal and policy developments in 2013. Highlights 2013

Annual report
The EU and its Member States took a variety of important steps in 2013 to protect and promote fundamental rights by assuming new international commitments, revamping legislation and pursuing innovative policies on the ground. Yet, fundamental rights violations seized the spotlight with distressing frequency: would‑be migrants drowning off the EU’s coast, unprecedented mass surveillance, racist and extremist‑motivated murders, child poverty and Roma deprivation.

Fundamental rights: challenges and achievements in 2013 - Annual report 2013

Annual report
This year’s FRA annual report looks at fundamental rights-related developments in asylum, immigration and integration; border control and visa policy; information society, respect for private life and data protection; the rights of the child and the protection of children; equality and non-discrimination; racism, xenophobia and related intolerance; access to justice and judicial cooperation; rights of crime victims; EU Member States and international obligations.