Access to justice in Europe: an overview of challenges and opportunities

This report provides an EU-wide comparative analysis of the effectiveness of access to justice, across the EU Member States. Launched on 23 March at the conference "Protecting victims in the EU: the road ahead" hosted in Budapest by the Hungarian Presidency of the Council of the EU with the support of the FRA, the report emphasises obstacles making it difficult for victims to enforce their rights.

According to international and European human rights law, EU Member States must guarantee everyone the right to go to court, or to an alternative dispute resolution body, and to get a remedy where their rights are violated. This is the right of access to justice. Without it, a victim is not able to enforce their rights or put right the damage suffered.

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. EU Member States should consider introducing fast-track procedures for urgent cases. Where cases relate to claims for smaller amounts of money, or do not involve complicated questions of evidence and law, simpler procedures could be created. Examples of this can be found in Austria, Belgium, Hungary and the United Kingdom. 
  • high legal costs including lawyers' fees and court fees. Although there is no absolute right to legal aid under human rights law, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) looks at the importance of the right you are trying to enforce, as well as whether the denial of legal aid will stop you from having a fair hearing. Because the test of the ECtHR is more generous, it is likely that many victims in EU Member States are not receiving legal aid when they should.
  • 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.

Find more details in the full report and factsheets downloadable below.

For more background information, see national thematic studies.