Plans to modernise and digitalise judicial cooperation for cross-border civil and commercial cases throughout the European Union were tabled by the European Commission on May 31. The aim is to make access to civil justice cheaper, more efficient and more accessible to citizens and businesses.

The proposals will make it obligatory for courts to exchange documents electronically, and will promote the use of videoconferencing to hear witnesses based in another country, according to a Commission press release.

“Every year, there are approximately 3.4 million cross-border civil and commercial court proceedings in the EU,” said Věra Jourová, Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality. “More and more people are living, studying and working in other EU countries, and businesses are expanding across borders. This proposal will give them access to faster and more affordable cross-border justice.”

The proposals will update the Regulations on Service of documents and on Taking of evidence. The updated rules will make it obligatory for courts to exchange documents electronically cross-border.

Currently, in a cross-border case, both EU member states’ justice systems involved submit the documents by post, which is slow and incurs some costs. Shifting communications from paper-based channels to electronic could save up to €78m per year across the entire EU.

The proposals will also introduce a uniform return slip for documents sent to people and companies by post. Currently, there are many problems with receiving documents cross-border as return slips vary and often are not correctly filled out. It is estimated that with this improvement more than €2.2m could be saved every year.

Another proposal is to promote the use of video-conferencing to make it easier for persons to be heard without requiring them to travel to another country. Videoconferencing typically costs €100, against €400 and €800 for a physical hearing.