Change is a fact, the goal is to turn it into transformation through public policies that ensure structures for the coming decades.
The situation created by the COVID-19 accelerates the transformation process underway.
The world is changing rapidly. In the last ten years the climate emergency and the digital revolution have changed the nature of the social, economic and environmental agenda. The problems have changed, and so has the way we deal with them. Sustainability has taken center stage, bringing with it new values and new criteria for public policy. Issues that were not a priority before are now urgent. For its part, the digital revolution has introduced new tools that change the way we work. Data is now a valuable resource around which procedures are designed. It is a synergy that structurally changes the context in which we live.
While this structural change was taking place, the pandemic arrived, which deepened the problems and made the solutions more urgent. Change is a given, the goal is to turn it into transformation through public policies that affirm the structures for the coming decades. The situation created by COVID-19 accelerates the ongoing transformation process.
The Public Justice Service is not immune to this transformation. On the one hand, the conflicts vary within a society in transition; on the other hand, the crisis resulting from the pandemic demands greater efficiency from the justice system. It opens up the opportunity to improve management based on data, making processes more efficient and accessible. We have the responsibility to contribute to the deepening of the Rule of Law at a time of maximum legislative activity as a result of the transformation.
This complex context is an opportunity for the transformation of the Public Justice Service.
The way to do this is by incorporating new tools that allow it to broaden its action and to connect it with other administrations. It is an important development, but a calculated one. An adaptation to the demands of society and its ways. With the challenge of leaving no one behind. Society is going to be greener and more digital, it has to be less unequal. Justice has to contribute to making this effective.
Such a transformation cannot be done by one administration in isolation. Co-governance, at this time, becomes a central element of any public policy. In the field of justice, with the Autonomous Communities and the institutions which are part of their governance; outside the field of Justice, with other ministries and institutions that make it possible to make the efforts and investments efficient. The ecological transition, data management, the demographic challenge, cohesion, the reduction of inequality and economic recovery are challenges that put the needs of citizens first and blur the strict focus on competencies. In order to promote the country's project, renewed cooperation is required so as to reduce the uncertainty inherent to any transformation.
Where does Justice stand?
In Spain there are around 70,000 people working directly in the Administration of Justice: 5,500 judges, almost 2,300 prosecutors, 4,300 Court Clerks, more than 14,500 procedural managers, 22,700 procedural processors, more than 9,700 law clerks, 1,144 forensic experts, more than 200 medical assistants, 100 specialist technicians and 120 laboratory assistants; and more than 7,000 justices of the peace (municipality courts). All of them, in addition to the 2,000 Court staff of the General Administration of the State and the Autonomous Communities (CCAA, Comunidades Autónomas in Spanish) with jurisdiction in matters of Justice, including the Prosecutor's Office.
Likewise, there are other operators who, without being public employees, are part of the Public Justice Service, enabling, facilitating and, in short, ensuring the relationship between citizens and Justice:
In addition, providing support for the whole service, there is a staff that allows us to carry out the services of interpretation and translation, appraisal, maintenance and cleaning of headquarters, archiving and storage of goods, training, development and evolution of computer applications, maintenance of equipment, and so on. These groups are the ones that make it possible for the Public Justice Service to be provided in good conditions.
The Administration of Justice has more than 1400 judicial offices spread throughout the country. The Ministry of Justice also has 14 administrative offices in addition to those of the Autonomous Communities.
The aggregate budget of the Ministry of Justice and of the Autonomous Communities that have assumed the competences in the area of Justice is of approximately 4,200 million euros per year. Quantitatively, the figures are high, but in comparison with other areas of the Administration, the weight of Justice is not large, relatively speaking. Qualitatively, its weight is measured in terms of the importance of its role in the Rule of Law and for social cohesion, which is essential. If justice does not work, the Rule of Law is paralyzed.
Justice works properly. However, the effort made by so many professionals with so many resources is not having the results that the public demands.
The first opinion barometer carried out by the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ, Consejo General del Poder Judicial in Spanish) on the Public Justice Service was in 1984. At that time, 21% of Spaniards thought that Justice worked badly or very badly. The last time this question was asked was in the barometer of the Center for Sociological Research (CIS, Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas in Spanish) in July 2019 and the percentage of those who held this opinion went up to 48%. In the same survey, 61% considered that the resources available to the judiciary were insufficient and the three main shortcomings were: lack of judges, lack of IT resources and lack of auxiliary personnel.
The data show a different diagnosis if we take the three shortcomings mentioned above as a reference. Over the last 20 years, the number of judges in Spain has increased by almost 50%, from 3,748 to 5,593. However, the number of cases resolved in the courts has decreased by 5%.
In relation to IT resources, in the latest report prepared by the CEPEJ (European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice) Spain leads, together with Estonia and Austria, the ranking of the IT equipment index in the judicial system. Per capita expenditure on these technologies is above the European average. However, the result is the existence of different procedural management systems, depending on the autonomous community, which are not interoperable with each other.
Finally, with regard to the sufficiency of auxiliary staff, the number of people working in the Administration of Justice who are not judges is almost double the European average. This is what the latest CEPEJ report states, placing Spain with 105.7 per 100,000 inhabitants, compared to the 55.7 average.
In short, public opinion regarding the lack of resources in the Administration of Justice is not supported by the data. According to the CEPEJ report (2018), Justice expenditure in Spain was 79.1€/inhabitant, above the European average of 64 €/inhabitant.
It is not only a question of economic and human resources. Regardless of comparisons with other countries in our environment, upon analyzing the functioning of the Spanish justice system, we can see that, in addition to resources, the problem is also due to structures and resources that are not entirely efficient. During the last 10 years, the number of cases filed in our courts has decreased by 34%, from 9,567,676 cases in 2009 to 6,279,302 in 2019. This decrease, together with the increase in the number of judicial bodies and in personnel and material resources experienced during this period, should have led to a significant improvement in the situation of the Public Justice Service. However, in this period, the estimated average duration of the jurisdiction proceedings as a whole has increased from 66 days in 2009 to 162 in 2019 during first instances. Regarding appeals, growth is similar, having gone from 63 to 138 days. All of this despite the dedication of judges, magistrates, prosecutors, Court clerks and other personnel at the service of the Administration of Justice.
Bearing in mind that economic and human resources are above the European average, and that the increase in the number of judges, prosecutors and personnel in the service of the Administration of Justice and investments in IT resources have been very significant in recent years, it is clear that all of this has not had the expected impact on the number of cases resolved. It would be necessary to broaden the perspective in order to ask ourselves which are the key points that hinder efficiency and require a different impetus.
An in-depth analysis shows that the problem has several simultaneous causes: Inefficient allocation of resources.
• Compartmentalized and inflexible organization.
• Low efficiency governance model.
• Outdated rules and procedures.
Purely incremental solutions are not enough. The following is also necessary:
• Efficient, flexible and innovative organizational structures.
• New model of co-governance.
• Regulatory improvement within the framework of the Rule of Law.
The different boosts over the last ten years, although they have improved Justice, have not had the expected results. At this moment, the international and national context has changed a lot and very fast. It is a different reality, which requires other public policies. In Justice as well. It is a problem that needs to be turned into an opportunity.
A changing society
We went into the 2008 crisis with an economic problem and ten years later we emerged with a climate emergency and a pandemic. We are facing an agenda of a different nature that shows a change in the cycle that profoundly affects society, the economy and the environment. There are four elements that define this process:
The European Parliament declared a climate and environmental emergency in December 2019. In Spain, the Council of Ministers declared it in January 2020. Climate change is the problem, the answer is the ecological transition featured in the new agenda. It is transversal and involves the whole of society and all Administrations. On the one hand, it changes the social dynamics because it defines a shared global objective. The social tensions between diverse interests where some win and others lose are subordinated to a greater shared interest, the whole of society wins or the whole of society loses. It is a different perspective on conflict. On the other hand, it cannot be tackled by sectors, it is not just a matter for one area of the Administration, it is a matter for all of them. The ecological transition changes some perspectives on governance and measurement indicators. Efficiency is now economic, social and environmental sustainability - and not just an economic indicator.
It is the new industrial revolution. Like the previous ones, it implies a change in the energy matrix -from oil to renewable energies-, but above all, it implies the use of data as a raw material. We are moving from analog systems with computers to digital systems based on data. It changes the way of working, of consumption, of culture and even of the private life which is introduced into the networks. Proper data processing allows for improved efficiency, decentralization, off-site joint management and immediacy; but it also implies challenges for the Rule of Law. The incorporation of new rights as outlined in the Digital Bill of Rights must be ensured. It changes the way the Administration is managed and opens up great opportunities in Spain, the second country in the world with the most smartphones per inhabitant.
The 2008 crisis increased inequality in the Spanish society, both socially -in terms of income- and territorially - with areas at risk of depopulation. The new processes will have an impact on a society that needs to reduce this inequality. The effects of climate change are being felt in the most vulnerable sectors and territories in particular. Digitalization can be a new factor of inequality if the gap that separates a significant part of the population that is materially, culturally or generationally analogical is not taken into account. It is the duty of the public administration to ensure that structural mechanisms are in place so that no one is left behind. Fighting inequality means ensuring equal access to public services, employment, income and justice.
COVID-19 has put society and the Administrations in a critical situation. It has shown most vulnerable points and its consequences, once again, have been felt in the most vulnerable sectors in particular. In addition to the impact on the economy, it has changed some elements that structure society. The lockdown required for the fight against the pandemic has changed mobility. Attendance at official offices diminishes against remote and online modes of public service delivery.
The urgency has made it necessary to take rapid decisions: action plans, non-face-to-face ways of working, legislative developments and budgetary adjustments. Many of these policies are intended to be stable and are here to stay. The pandemic accelerates decision-making.
The ecological transition and digitalization are two unquestionable realities that are shaping the present and will shape the future. They force a reorientation of public policies and of the actions of Administrations. The pandemic deepens the problems, but at the same time accelerates the solutions. It forces decision making. The resources that European countries have allocated to recovery will greatly accelerate the transformation process. The decisions of the next few years will define the structures on which society will develop in the future. The aim is for society to reduce its current inequality, have greater social and territorial cohesion, more efficient administrations oriented towards citizens, effective governance for shared challenges and a much reduced environmental impact.
These structural processes are taking place within a changing international context. The European Union (EU) was leading the fight against climate change and the commitment to digitalization. Now, it is doing so against the pandemic, with a process of internal convergence and co-responsibility among member countries. The Next Generation fund is the definitive boost to European leadership in the ecological transition and digitalization, but it is also a process of internal cohesion, reducing inequality between countries and deepening the Rule of law. European funds have a simultaneous impact on the transformation of the economy, the ecological transition and the promotion of the Rule of Law.
In Spain, this process is taking place in a plural country with shared challenges. Co-governance is going to be the institutional dynamic, both because of the territorial plurality represented by the autonomous communities and municipalities, and because of the nature of the new agenda, which drives departments and organizations from different sectors to agree on common challenges. The ecological transition and the pandemic are problems that demand a change in the public policy metaphor in order to be addressed. It is about moving from the metaphor of the machine with parts that mesh for a constant and repeated movement, to that of the ecosystem with shared spaces, in a permanent process of adaptation to a changing reality. This transition implies a less rigid competitive logic and effective co-governance.
A new context for Justice
The starting point of Justice 2030 was a consultation process that was carried out in the areas of the Ministry of Justice during the months of February and March 2020. Subsequently, it was extended to different sectors: legal operators, trade unions and autonomous communities, as well as civil society and other administrations. This first diagnosis was improved within the framework of the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan and with the assessment of the impact of the emergency measures that have been put in place to respond to the pandemic.
The global change has specific effects on the Public Justice Service. Digitalization changes the way of working and enables a qualitative leap in the Administration of Justice. It makes organizational transformation and service decentralization possible. It allows for more efficient management based on data, expedites the dynamic allocation of resources and the access of citizens to justice.
The experience of the COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the need to improve remote relations with citizens and legal operators in order to provide them with quality services with full digital legal security. The aim is not only to minimize the concentration of people in enclosed spaces, but also to avoid the need to travel and the consequent costs - environmental, economic and in terms of time spent.
On the other hand, it is essential to improve the working conditions of justice personnel, developing agile systems that allow for the effective and efficient processing of cases, using tools that improve productivity -electronic files, automation-, and making remote work possible.
But digitalization is being implemented in a society that has a digital breach. According to the report “La brecha digital en España” [The Digital Breach in Spain] (UGT, 2019) which was based on official sources such as the EU Eurobarometer, the Spanish National Institute of Statistics (INE) and the Center for Sociological Research (CIS), 70% of Spaniards have a digital performance level that is basic or lower, and 45% of workers indicate having difficulties with computers. This gap widens with age - especially in people over 65 years old -, with income - higher in low incomes -, and gender- wider among women-. The digital breach has been reduced by the urgency of the pandemic and the lockdown. Citizens, companies and public administrations have made an initial effort that is having an effect, but it is necessary to design new policies and invest resources in order to reduce the gap.
The green transition affects all judicial and administrative offices and the day-to-day management processes of the Administration of Justice. The Spanish National Integrated Energy and Climate Plan states that 74% of the energy consumed by 2030 should be renewable, and 100% should be reached by 2050.
These regulations are promoted by other ministerial departments and they oblige the Justice system to adapt its headquarters in order to make them more energy efficient, by producing part of its energy from renewable sources, reducing the use of paper -printers, storage spaces- and other waste, and by connecting it with the mobility of workers and users who will have access by alternative means of transport or will reduce their mobility due to telematic access or teleworking. These standards oblige the Public Justice Service to be structurally incorporated into the ecological transition framework.
We are facing uncertain times, something which is inherent to any transformation. For this reason, public and private operators require information and training spaces that provide them with security. If the legal operators feel secure in the transformation process, so do the citizens, who are the final recipients. Training, which is always necessary, now becomes fundamental.
The function of Justice is rights protection and conflict resolution. The change in society, the economic crisis and new social and cultural habits bring with them a different kind of conflict. Its management must contribute to increasing social cohesion. Let no one be left behind and let the resolution of these conflicts be done through dialogue and agreement between the parties in conflict, as far as possible, without resorting to the courts. It is the role of the Public Justice Service to incorporate new instruments for their conflict resolution and to emerge from the crisis as a more cohesive, resilient society and strengthen the social contract. These instruments encourage citizen participation in justice as a whole and allow society to contribute to the greater effectiveness of the Public Justice Service. The resolution of disputes through alternative methods to the judicial process reduces the volume of appeals before the Courts and the litigation rate.