Sir Geoffrey Vos

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President of the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary (ENCJ)

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‘ENCJ more influential than ever’

The ENCJ is becoming much more influential and is working more closely with the European Commission and with other European organisations than ever. And rightfully so, says ENCJ President Geoffrey Vos, because: ‘The European Network of Councils for the Judiciary is really the only systemic judicial organisation in the European Union. We are not a network of individual judges; we’re a network of Councils for the Judiciary and similar bodies across Europe. Therefore we speak with some authority about the justice system on a systemic basis, rather than about individual judges.’

The influence of the ENCJ is growing also because the justice systems of the Member States of the ENCJ have far more in common than they have differences, says ENCJ President Geoffrey Vos. ‘People make a big mistake if they think that because in the United Kingdom we have a common law system and in the Netherlands you have a civil law system, there is such a difference that we cannot properly communicate and learn from one another.’ It’s not comparing apples and oranges therefore, because, according to Sir Geoffrey ‘we are all doing the same thing, albeit in slightly different ways.’ The ENCJ President elaborates: ‘The objective of a good justice system is the same in every country. It is to provide remedies for the citizen and make them readily available and accessible and make the Judiciary accountable. The road you take in order to achieve justice for the citizen, is not the most relevant thing. We are all trying to achieve the same objective. Timeliness, good decision-making, confidence of the public in the rulings by the judges, they are completely universal. In fact, when you look at the details of the different systems in Europe, the differences are far smaller than people think.’

Since all over Europe the aim is a good justice system, it is imperative to investigate what that entails, says Lord Justice Geoffrey Vos. ‘Nobody has done very much work on what it means to have a quality justice system in a democratic society.’ Therefore the exploration for what the criteria ought to be of a quality justice system, would not be out of place in the ENCJ agenda in the coming years. Vos says: ‘Everybody wishes to achieve a quality justice system, and many countries have them in colloquial terms, but it is extremely important, to consider what the essentials are of a quality system. Take a communist state where the justice system achieves very quick and summary justice without any right to appeal. It has one advantage: it is swift and effective and you know where you stand. It may be in prison for 20 years, but you’re there very quickly. Is that quality or is it necessary to have many forms of appeal? That may take a very long time, because there are many rights available for the citizen. Is that quality? Or is it something in between?’

A different, but urgent modern day challenge the ENCJ is facing is how to deal with at least, and incorporate at best, the internet society, claims ENCJ President Geoffrey Vos. Because: ‘The internet society gives us all less time for contemplation and less time to react after full consideration’. Sir Geoffrey continues: ‘In the old days a judge would sit in his room and make a decision or sit in court and make a decision. He would publish it and that would be the beginning and the end of the decision making process. Now we have instant communication; many judges are on social networking sites. The younger judges in Europe nearly all are. There is a possibility of inappropriate influences being brought to bear through Twitter and Facebook and what have you. I am not saying that it happens, I’m just saying that the concept of judges being distant and invisible is changing. We have to find ways of dealing with it.’