EU/Eurozone – Start Again or Plod On? – Common Judiciary

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EU/Eurozone – Start Again or Plod On?

Common Judiciary

The Judiciary of a nation state is the organ of government that should provide oversight of the legislative and executive (government), and is a comprehensive and integrated structure able to delivery stable legal security according to the laws of the State.

In this blog we will quickly propose an outline legal framework for a common democratic legal system for our United States of Europe that will provide a secure legal structure for all people.

The judicial structure is the system of courts that interprets and applies the law in the name of the nation state. The judiciary should have the power to change laws through the process of judicial review. Courts with judicial review power may annul the laws and rules of the state when it finds them incompatible with a higher norm, such as primary legislation, the provisions of the constitution, or international law. Judges constitute a critical force for interpretation and implementation of a constitution, thus de facto in common law countries creating the body of constitutional law. Thus the judiciary needs to be fully independent of the legislative and executive, and the judges be conferred on merit, not election.

The judiciary usually consists, at its head, a court of final appeal called the ‘Supreme Court’ or ‘Constitutional Court’, together with various levels of lower courts.

Under the doctrine of the separation of powers, the judiciary does not make law, which is the responsibility of the legislative, or enforce law, which is the responsibility of the executive, but rather interprets law and applies it to the facts of each case.

This organ of the state is responsible to provide equal justice for all under law, including human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The judiciary also provides the mechanism for the resolution of civil disputes, and a criminal justice system.

So much for a democratic judicial system definition but the complexity of the various legal structures currently used throughout the EU nation states is mind-boggling. We have Common Law, structures based on Napoleonic Code, Civil Law, Basic law, etc. In the USA there is Federal Law as the legal foundation, and then there is State Law superimposed upon it. The overall legal platform is based on English Common Law which was adopted from the English Legal System. However the USA has subsequently over-complicated this system in their overly litigious society, and we should avoid this. As an example an identical contract drafted under US Law (50 pages), English Law (5 pages), and Swiss Law (3 pages). Any consideration of a legal system needs to learn lessons of the past and to keep it simple and relevant.

For business to effectively operate throughout our United States of Europe there must be a common legal platform. The complexity of the current EU multi-legal systems adds a cost burden to business which ultimately reflects in the price of product or service to the consumer – the people of Europe. But what system to adopt?

My argument for the above structure starts with a global perspective. Our United States of Europe will most certainly want to engage in business with the wider world. If we look at trade in oil & gas, commodities, manufactured trade, international securities, all of these have standard legal packages throughout the world which also provide trusted international arbitration. These legal structures have all been derived and evolved out of English Law, are drafted in the English language, and jurisdiction will be either/and/or English Law and US Law. These systems were devised to create a common and safe platform for international trade, are widely used, and banks prefer these tried and tested structures for their involvement in transactions.

Thus I propose that the legal structure as regards business, commerce, and finance be English Law. As the foundation of the English legal system is Common Law then our Legal System for the United States of Europe would be based on Common law, also known as case law or precedent, and is law developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals. One third of the world’s population (approximately 2.3 billion people) live in common law jurisdictions or in systems mixed with civil law, and thus this proposed system would be compatible with many major trading partners in the world, including the USA and India.

However I would not propose total adoption of the English Legal system as I would see our new model as a golden opportunity to significantly revise some of the historic anomalies in the process of English Law, not least the removal of the barrister/solicitor structure which adds significant cost to the process of law. Another example would be the abolition of much of our Family Division law and replace it with something more akin to the structure in the German legal system, and the German inquisitorial process (Civil Law) in the lower courts would also be more relevant and cost effective, and thus ensure that remedy in law is available to all. Common law courts tend to use an adversarial system, in which two sides present their cases to a neutral judge. In contrast civil law systems use an inquisitorial system process, where an examining magistrate serves two roles by developing the evidence and arguments for one and the other side during the investigation phase, and which could be heard as litigant in person without fear of being overawed by an opposing lawyer.

I have actually experienced the confusion of examination under an unfamiliar legal system in a language unknown to me as a witness in a case in the Austrian Courts where protocol dictates that the case should be heard in Austrian-German. The proceedings were conducted under civil law and thus the judge was the primary examiner. After about one hour (of a 5 hour examination of my evidence) the Judge, who obviously was fluent in English, was becoming increasingly frustrated with the translator of my testimony which was frequently being corrected by the lawyers to both the claimant and the defendant. Having determined that all of the key people spoke English the judge dismissed the translator, and the hearing was continued in English. This judge was clear in his objective to get to the truth of the matter, and was not about to allow out-dated protocols to compromise his objective.

In Switzerland it is now common to hear cases in English, and which was initiated by cases involving international trade.

A key requirement of any modern democratic system is the rights afforded under habeas corpus. A writ of habeas corpus is a writ (legal action) that requires a person under arrest to be brought before a judge or into court. The principle of habeas corpus ensures that a prisoner can be released from unlawful detention—that is, detention lacking sufficient cause or evidence. The remedy can be sought by the prisoner or by another person coming to the prisoner’s aid. This right originated in the English legal system, and is now available in many nations. It has historically been an important legal instrument safeguarding individual freedom against arbitrary state action. The jurist Albert Venn Dicey wrote that the British Habeas Corpus Acts “declare no principle and define no rights, but they are for practical purposes worth a hundred constitutional articles guaranteeing individual liberty”. There are nation states within the EU, and new members under this model who do not use habeas corpus, and thus my reference to its fundamental role in the United States of Europe.

Habeas corpus essentially means that you are innocent until you are proven guilty. There are some exceptions to this, e.g. consumer banking law where a customer who has a dispute with a financial institution can, in equity, reverse this situation in that the bank will be assumed in the wrong unless the bank can prove itself in the right. An ordinary consumer cannot be expected to contest a bank having vast resources with which to frustrate a consumer claim. It could be argued that this removal of habeas corpus should be applied to all service sector corporates, especially energy and mobile phone providers. In this age of automaton account management mistakes are common putting the consumer under much stress and distress dealing with intransigent corporate customer services who believe that their computers are always right. It would be more equitable if the corporate was required to prove that the data in their computers is legitimate.

Thus my proposal for the judiciary of the United States of Europe would be:

  • An independent constitutional judiciary based on merit, not election
  • A European Supreme Court where the judges comprise the senior judge of each of the nation states. The President of the Supreme Court would be determined by election by the Supreme Court judges on a 2 year re-election
  • A legal system based on  English Common Law with appropriate elements of Civil Law
  • Modernised court processes including removal of barrister/solicitor protocol, and introduction of the inquisitorial system in the lower courts
  • Member states to have their own courts subordinated to the Supreme Court
  • Member states to have own assemblies able to enact State law, by-laws, and ordinances consistent with constitutional law
  • Intrinsic rights to all under habeas corpus, albeit with the specific exclusion of terrorists
  • Service sector corporates to have no right to habeas corpus in consumer disputes

Thank you for your continued interest in this European venture.

This blog is part of a series of blogs called ‘EU/Eurozone – Start Again or Plod On?’ and which examine the framework for a truly United States of Europe, and what would be needed to achieve it. Look at the archive index to find other blogs in this series.

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These blogs are intended to provoke thought and ideas so I look forward to any comments about the content. Just move to the beginning of the blog, click on ‘Comments’ and you can record your views, or ask questions.

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