Sustaining Access to Justice in Europe: New Avenues for Costs and Funding

The team of the NWO Vici project ‘Affordable Access to Justice’ at Erasmus School of Law, Erasmus University (Rotterdam), is organising the conference ‘Sustaining Access to Justice in Europe: New Avenues for Costs and Funding’ on 19 and 20 October 2023 at the Erasmus Paviljoen at Erasmus University Rotterdam.

Access to civil justice is of paramount importance for enforcing citizens’ rights. At the heart of access to civil justice lies litigation funding and cost management. Yet, over the past decades, access to justice has been increasingly put under pressure due to retrenching governments, high costs of procedure, and the inefficiency of courts and justice systems. Within this context, the funding of litigation in Europe seems to be shifting from public to private sources. Private actors and innovative business models emerged to provide new solutions to the old problem of financial barriers of access to justice.

With the participation of policymakers, practitioners, academics, and civil society representatives from all over Europe and beyond, the conference seeks to delve deeper into the financial implications of access to justice and the different ways to achieve sustainable civil justice systems in Europe.

The topics addressed in this international academic conference will include the different methods of financing dispute resolution, particularly in the context of group litigation (third-party funding, crowdfunding, blockchain technologies), public interest litigation, developments in ADR/ODR, the new business models of legal professionals as well as law and economics aspects on litigation funding. The conference is supported by the Dutch Research Council (NWO).

Find the link to registration here.

Please find the preliminary conference programme below.

Call for papers Vici Conference Sustainable justice 2023.pdf

Provisional Programme.pdf


EU flag ERC logo

“The history of liberty has largely been the history of the observance of procedural safeguards” - Felix Frankfurter, in McNabb v. United States, 318 U.S. 332 (1943)

The design of the ERC and Vici projects is inspired by the idea that procedure matters (inaugural lecture, 2012). How can we secure fundamental rights and the quality of the justice system while – realising that resources are limited and society is in constant flux – looking for procedural innovations that meet the need for economic efficiency and effectiveness? Driving forces are concerns for the equality in accessing justice, securing transparency, technological advancement, the human aspect, facilitating economic activity, the sustainability of our civil justice systems and the impact of civil justice on society.

Below follows a further description first of the ERC project (2017-2022) and of the Vici project (2020-2025).

ERC project: Building EU civil justice

Challenges of procedural innovations - bridging access to justice

Access to civil justice is of paramount importance for enforcing the rights of consumers and businesses and protecting fundamental rights. Key issues in the current efforts to improve access to justice at the EU and national level are the digitisation of procedures (including the use of AI), the privatisation of justice (ADR), increasing self-representation, and court specialisation. We investigate how these trends influence access to justice in selected, representative Member States, and what the repercussions are for the emerging EU civil justice system. Five jurisdictions identified for this project are Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Romania, and the United Kingdom (England and Wales). However, we also are keen to broaden our horizons and to look beyond these five countries and outside of Europe. We combine legal-normative and comparative law research with empirical research, which helps us in testing and revising our ideas. This research is conducted by an international team of seven researchers who share a passion for research, teaching and civil justice, who enjoy an international and multidisciplinary approach and working environment, embrace new ideas, are independent thinkers and invigorate each other. The project is fully financed by the European Research Council under its ERC Consolidator scheme (ERC-Consolidator Grant n° 726032). The project ran from 1 September 2017 till 1 September 2022.

Outline subprojects

Subproject 1a: Digitisation (Erlis Themeli)

This subproject focuses on the digitisation of civil procedure and the conduct of court proceedings in the context of access to justice. Focal points are digital access to procedures and the use of artificial intellegence in decision making. It consists of normative, comparative and empirical research and aims at developing a normative framework for accessible civil procedures that meet the demands of procedural justice.

Subproject 1b: ODR (Emma van Gelder)

This PhD project focuses on the implementation and the functioning of out-of-court dispute resolutio mechanisms and the ODR Regulation in selected Member States with a view to improving access to justice. It is also closely connected to subproject 2 on ADR. The PhD project was co-supervised by Prof. dr. Stefaan Voet (Leuven University). The PhD dissertation on Consumer Online Dispute Resolution Pathways in Europe was successfully defended at Erasmus School of Law on 18 November 2022.

Subproject 2: Privatisation (ADR) (Betül Kas/Alexandre Biard)

This postdoc project studies the privatisation of justice (in particular consumer ADR) in the EU and the selected Member States in particular. It gives a critical appraisal of the gains for and threats to access to justice and the judicial system as a whole on the basis of normative, comparative, and empirical research. It will provide a framework and define the parameters for further development of a sustainable ADR mechanism.

Subproject 3: Self-representation (Jos Hoevenaars)

This postdoc project will scrutinise the self-representation trend against the background of access to justice. On the basis of normative, comparative and substantial (primarily qualitative) empirical research, it will assess the developments in self-representation, evaluate how self-representation changes procedural dynamics between courts and parties as well as the repercussions for the effectiveness of litigation and procedural justice as components of access to justice.

Subproject 4: Court specialisation (Georgia Antonopoulou)

This PhD project investigates the court specialisation trend focusing on international business courts in selected Member States, taking account of international commercial courts outside Europe and the parallels with commercial arbitration. On the basis of desk and field research it will assess the contribution of specialisation to access to justice and give recommendations. This PhD project was co-supervised by Prof. Eddy Bauw (Utrecht University). The PhD dissertation entitled Forum Selling and Forum Marketing in International Commercial Disputes: The Case of International Commercial Courts was successfully defended at Erasmus School of Law on 23 September 2022.

Vici project: Affordable Access to Justice

Towards sustainable cost and funding mechanisms for civil litigation in Europe

At the heart of effective access to civil justice lies litigation funding and cost management. Access to civil justice has been under pressure due to retrenching governments, high costs, and procedural inefficiency. The Vici project will assess new pathways to civil justice funding and cost schemes, with a view to developing a balanced financing system, thereby securing access to justice in Europe. Combining legal-normative, comparative law, and empirical research, the project will (1) analyse the development of private funding and cost mechanisms in selected European jurisdictions (where three key jurisdictions are the United Kingdom (England and Wales), Germany and the Netherlands, while Scandinavian countries are also of interest); (2) scrutinise these against the background of securing access to justice as a fundamental right; and (3) devise a framework for funding and cost rules, contributing to a sustainable European civil justice system. The Vici project financed by the Dutch Research Council (NWO) consists of seven researchers with different backgrounds. It kicked off on 1 December 2020 and in January 2021 our team was complete. It complements and builds on the ERC consolidator project Building EU Civil Justice: challenges of procedural innovations - bridging access to justice (2017-2022).

Our Vici project is also on ResearchGate.

Outline subprojects

Subproject 1a: From public to private funding (Carlota Ucín)

This postdoc project deals with the shift from public to private funding of access to justice and considers, in particular, the normative basis for building a sustainable mechanism for European civil justice. From the understanding of access to justice as a human right, it enquires not only on cost matters but also on the relevance of public interest litigation as a way of achieving effective access to justice. This subproject is developed through three main lines: a) the first one deals with the concept of duties related to access to justice and the role of States and private actors; b) the second line goes to the field and will explore the compared solutions in the implementation of Third-Party Funding (TPF), in particular, crowdfunding and public interest litigation and c) the last stage aims to elaborate a balanced financed system for Europe that encounters the findings of the previous stages. This implies considering the new role of States in the post-welfare State but also the responsibilities of private actors when they get profit in a public arena.

Subproject 1b: Funding and who decides? (Adrian Cordina)

As cost and funding have economic implications, this subproject will view TPF from a law and economics perspective, complementing the other subprojects. Although different cost and funding mechanisms have received attention in law and economics, the models to predict behaviour are abstracted from the legal framework of a particular country, or are geared to the United States (US) legal system. This PhD project willy apply models in selected European jurisdictions, resulting in more concrete predictions on outcomes and behaviour or in strengthening the institutional embeddedness of the models. This PhD project is co-supervised by Prof. Louis Visscher.

Subproject 1c: Crowdfunding civil justice (Eduardo Silva de Freitas)

Web-based crowdfunding emerged around fifteen years ago to finance projects, for instance art projects. Crowd litigation funding (CLF) is an emerging way to finance litigation through platforms such as Funded Justice (US), CrowdJustice (United Kingdom), and (the Netherlands). This PhD project will investigate the CLF market, the legal framing, its use and the potential for civil litigation and provide a framework. This PhD project is co-supervised by Dr. Eva Storskrubb.

Subproject 2: Cost mechanisms (Adriani Dori)

The need for funding as described in the first strand corresponds to the high costs incurred in litigation. This second strand studies these cost categories, and questions established and new mechanisms designed to control and reduce the costs. This subproject will identify in detail the most important costs in civil litigation, and evaluate how these affect access to justice. This will also aid the first strand of the project. It will then map the various reforms and techniques aimed at reducing and allocating the costs, and will analyse and compare their effects. The subproject will provide a normative and empirical underpinning for the various cost rules, and give recommendations on the mix of measures to keep justice affordable.