Austerity should not impair access to justice, report

06.12.2012 - 11:00

A new report on access to justice in cases of discrimination in the European Union (EU), the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) says that financial austerity should not impair the access to justice.

On the contrary, according to the EU agency, non-judicial institutions could improve the access to justice, while possibly reducing the overall cost of the justice system.

The FRA report was launched at the agency’s Fundamental Rights Conference at the European Parliament on 6 December.

Access to justice is a core fundamental right and a central concept in the broader field of justice. It generally means having a case heard in a court of law, even though the report views it broadly, encompassing equality bodies as well as administrative and judicial institutions that deal with cases of discrimination.

According to FRA, access to justice is also a right that faces a number of challenges throughout the EU, especially in cases of discrimination.

The agency identified a number of areas where measures could bring concrete improvements. The FRA’s believe, the EU, its member states, institutions and mechanisms involved in providing access to justice, in this case related to non-discrimination, could all take action to improve the present situation.

For example, the agency recommended that the EU upgrades its legal framework to secure genuine access to justice by ensuring the independence of equality bodies and other institutions involved in the justice system.

In addition, the EU member states should review their overall national systems for accessing justice with a view to minimising complexity.

Moreover, the report concluded that while financial austerity might require streamlining, it should and need not be to the detriment of access to justice. As an example of how austerity-driven cuts slow equality work, FRA pointed at the Italian Government which stopped in July 2012 all secondments to the National Office Against Racial Discrimination (UNAR) from other departments. As a consequence, the operations of the department were slowed down dramatically, while the number of staff dropped to four from 13.

Last but not least, based on research, the report said that in order to improve access to justice, it would be beneficial to make it easier for complainants to determine which institution to address; bridge physical distance to first contact points when accessing justice and clarify legal definitions of discrimination and standardise legal provisions regarding all grounds or areas of discrimination.