Xandra Kramer, Endowed Professor of European Civil Procedure, has been awarded the prestigious ERC Consolidator Grant. The 2 million euros in funding will be used to conduct research into the accessibility of civil proceedings to EU citizens.

Kramer is “delighted” with the Consolidator Grant, which will make it possible for her, three postdocs and two doctoral candidates to conduct research for a period of five years. The project focuses on access to justice in Europe. As Kramer explained, “While civil proceedings are primarily a national affair, the number of European proceedings and rules is on the rise. Access to justice in those European civil proceedings has been difficult for decades, however.” Costs are high, proceedings take a long time and there is often a considerable degree of inequality between consumers and companies in terms of budget and knowledge.

Potential downsides

For the research project, Kramer identified four trends that are occurring at both national level and pan‑European level and are aimed at improving accessibility. One of these trends is the digitisation of proceedings. “Simpler, relatively straightforward proceedings can increasingly be conducted online, which means that the parties involved do not have to physically appear in court.” Another trend is ‘privatisation’ of the dispensation of justice. People can conduct proceedings, for example through a mediator, without the involvement of a court. This is often cheaper and faster.

While the trends referred to are clearly making justice more accessible, Kramer believes that there are also potential downsides. An example in this regard are the possibilities being created in many Member States to personally conduct proceedings without the assistance of a lawyer. “These possibilities make it cheaper to bring a case to court. At the same time, however, legal protection could be compromised in situations in which, for example, the other party is a company that engages a lawyer to handle the lawsuit.”

High requirements regarding ethics

Kramer and her future colleagues will study how these trends are manifesting themselves in five Member States. The research team will identify the positives and negatives of the trends and the effects that they are having on access to justice and the emerging European law of civil procedure.

Kramer had to hit the ground running when she heard on 1 December that she would be receiving the grant. “I could enjoy the moment for a fleeting day. But I was warned immediately: the real work was about to start.” Kramer spent until Christmas drawing up additional documents to complete the preparations of the grant agreement. “The European Research Council sets high requirements regarding the ethical aspects of research: how are you going to make candidates for your interviews aware of their rights and duties? How will you handle the storage of data? If applicable, what privacy-sensitive information do you intend to obtain during interviews and why? Because the research will be carried out in five different countries, all of the information must also be translated. It is of course important to have stringent requirements in place, but they do mean a mountain of paperwork.”