International Judicial Monitor
Published by the International Judicial Academy, Washington, D.C., with assistance from the
American Society of International Law

Summer 2012 Issue

Justice Sector Assessment


Towards the Harmonization of Judicial Training in Europe: The International and Regional Globalization of Judicial Training

By: Andrea Cruciani, District Court Criminal Judge, Italian Republic

Continuing judicial education has a relatively short history, dating back only to the second half of the twentieth century.  Up until then, the conviction that judges did not need constant professional training had prevailed.  Today, the training of judges is universally accepted as a necessary means to guarantee both the independence and the efficiency of the judiciary.  Thus, notwithstanding its recent appearance, the growth of continuing judicial training in the last few decades has been extremely rapid and widespread.  In particular, in Europe, a number of judicial training institutes were established starting in the 1950s, with the specific purpose of providing both pre-service/induction training and in-service/continuing education.  The Ecole Nationale de la Magistrature in France (1958) was the first judicial training center to be set up, later followed by similar institutions in other European countries, including the Consiglio Superiore della Magistratura in Italy (1959), the Deutsche Richterakademie in Germany (1973), the Centro de Estudos Judiciarios in Portugal (1979), and the Escuela Judicial Consejo General del Poder Judicial in Spain (1997).

Until very recently, these various national judicial centers pursued a national and insular perspective, with very little interaction and cooperation between each other.  This state of affairs was the result of a shared conviction that each legal and judicial system is the expression of a distinctive legal culture and tradition.  Therefore, the judicial programme had to be unique and local too.  Consequently, they have differed quite significantly in their approach to all phases of the training cycle, namely, needs assessment, development of training curricula, methodology of training delivery, and evaluation.

Most recently, a significant shift in judicial education policy has taken place as a result of a growing awareness of all the stakeholders of the importance of cross-fertilization.  This has resulted in turn in a worldwide effort to globalize judicial education, in order to supplement existing local and regional judicial education systems. 

Reflecting trends on other continents, the European countries are developing new policies and actions to promote a more harmonized system of judicial training in Europe.  There are at least four main causes for this new trend.  First, there is a generally stronger overall political commitment towards considering some issues of the political agenda in the justice arena as pertaining not exclusively to the national realm, given their European character. The coming into force of the Lisbon Treaty on 1 December 2009 has reinforced this tendency by shaping the EU institutional framework to make the EU more adapted to its growing size and to the cross-border challenges that it is increasingly facing.  Second, today the relevance of the European legislation interacting with and supplementing the national laws necessitates the development of common curricula for all the judges in Europe addressing issues pertaining to the impact of the European legislation on domestic legal orders.  Third, the sophisticated system of human rights protection within the European continent makes it indispensable for judges to be acquainted with the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights as well as with the applicable relevant mechanisms of interpretation and judicial review.  Finally, the new pattern of modern crimes, which are becoming more and more transnational in nature, often requires public prosecutors and judges of different European countries to be sufficiently prepared and equipped to cooperate swiftly and to have a mutual understanding of the respective procedures operating at national levels.

The process of the harmonization of judicial training in Europe aims to provide common guidelines and best practices in this field according to best international standards as well as to foster mutual understanding of the different legal systems.  The ways in which this harmonization process is taking place are varied.  Member States have recently been engaged in bilateral projects that are aimed at bridging the gap between them when it comes to training methodologies, thus contributing to a greater coordination and harmonization of the programmes and the methods of judicial training on the whole continent.  Most importantly, the European Member States have created networks and associations that now play a crucial role in setting up national standards and policies of judicial education.  In particular, the European Judicial Training Network (EJTN) and the Lisbon Network are of great significance, in addition to other initiatives within the framework of the European Union (EU) and the Council of Europe (CoE).

The European Judicial Training Network (EJTN)

The European Judicial Training Network (EJTN) was founded on 13 October 2000 as an international non-profit organization operating under the umbrella of the EU, with its headquarters in Brussels.  It comprises the institutions specifically responsible for the training of professional judges and prosecutors of all EU-Member States.  The EJTN’s objectives fall within the scope of the Amsterdam Treaty of 2 October 1997, the Tampere European Council meeting of 15-16 October 1999, the Hague Programme of 4-5 November 2004, and the European Commission Communication on judicial training of 29 June 2006, which set an ambitious goal for the European Union: to build a genuine European area of justice, to promote knowledge of legal systems and thus, to enhance understanding, confidence, and cooperation between judges and prosecutors within the EU.  As the sole association comprising the national judicial training institutions of the EU Member States, the EJTN is the principal platform and promoter of the development, training, and exchange of knowledge and competence of the EU judiciary, aiming to promote training programmes with a genuine European dimension for members of the judiciary in Europe. In particular, the EJTN aims include: analysing and identifying training needs, designing programmes and methods for collaborative training, developing training standards and curricula, coordinating judicial training exchanges and programmes, providing training expertise, disseminating experiences in the field of judicial training, and fostering cooperation between EU national training bodies.  Furthermore, the EJTN collaborates with candidate countries for accession to the EU in the field of judicial cooperation.

One of the core activities of the EJTN is to organize an Exchange Programme every year for a significant number of judges from the European countries.  This programme allows European judges, prosecutors, and judicial trainers to be exposed to the daily work of their colleagues at a court or prosecution office, or a judicial training institute of a different European country.  The main objective of the Exchange Programme is to develop mutual trust between judicial authorities by getting to know each other better and working together.  The first Exchange Programme was implemented in 2005.  Since then, about 1500 judges, public prosecutors, and judicial trainers have participated in the Exchange Programme.  The number of beneficiaries, participating countries, and types of activities has constantly increased over the years.  At the end of 2010, approximately 540 European judges and prosecutors were expected to participate in the Programme.  The EJTN implements the Exchange Programme with the financial support of the European Commission and in cooperation with 32 partners in 22 Member States and candidate countries of the EU, thus covering a broad geographical and institutional scope.

The Exchange Programme is open to judges and public prosecutors working in all jurisdictions (civil, criminal, administrative), and to judicial trainers.  Judges and prosecutors may choose between various exchange formulas:

  • Short-term, individual exchanges, where the visiting judge/prosecutor shadows a counterpart in his/her daily practice during 2 weeks in a court/prosecutor’s office of the host country.
  • Short-term group exchanges, where the visiting judge/prosecutor gets to know the host country's legal system and jurisdiction during 2 weeks together with other judges/prosecutors from other EU/candidate countries.
  • Long-term exchanges (3 months to 1 year) at the European Court of Justice, the European Court of Human Rights, and Eurojust.

Judicial trainers are hosted for one or two weeks by a judicial training institution of another country to exchange experiences and best practices.  In addition, the EJTN also manages a database of training activities available at the official website.  Over 188 training activities are listed in the catalogue and are searchable by topic, date, and country.  Furthermore, the EJTN is involved in the development of standard training curricula, fostering a genuine European judicial culture.  The EJTN training curricula are fundamental documents of EJTN, which help govern the design and planning of training activities for EJTN's members.  The curricula were adopted for the first time at the Ljubljana General Assembly, and they are updated annually by the thematic sub-groups of the Network.  The training curricula are based on the diversity of the legal systems of the Member States and unity through European law in different fields of activity, including criminal law, civil law, legal language, and trainers/methodology.

The Lisbon Network

The Lisbon Network, or Bureau of the European Network for the Exchange of Information between Persons and Entities Responsible for the Training of Judges and Public Prosecutors, was set up in 1995 as part of the legal cooperation programmes in order to enable the different judicial training bodies in Europe to become better acquainted with each other, to exchange information on matters of common interest and to support, by means of this dialogue, the development of judicial training facilities in the Member States of the Council of Europe.  Unlike the EJTN, which operates within the framework of the EU, the Lisbon Network falls under the umbrella of the CoE.  Indeed, the mission of the Lisbon Network fully lies within the fulfilment of the goals of the CoE, such as the independence and efficiency of justice.  Actions of the Network include cooperation on training methods, development of model training initiatives and judicial exchanges, distance learning, and donation policies.  As a network of judicial practitioners, the Lisbon Network has also become a regular interlocutor of those Council of Europe's structures entrusted with public policies of justice, namely the Consultative Council of the European Judges (CCJE) and the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ).

The Consultative Council of European Judges (CCJE)

The Consultative Council of the European Judges (CCJE) is a CoE advisory body concerned with issues related to the independence, impartiality, and competence of judges.  The CCJE is the sole body within the CoE exclusively composed of serving judges.  Therefore, the opinions that CCJE adopts each year on the topics contained in the Framework Global Action Plan for Judges, as well as other activities in the judicial field, are a valuable expression of the voice of the European judicial community.  Regarding judicial training, the CCJE has adopted a common position (Opinion No. 4, 2003) on some standards on appropriate initial and in-service training for judges at the national and European levels.

The European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ)

The European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ) also operates within the framework of the CoE, aiming to improve the efficiency and the functioning of the justice system of Member States.  Links between themes concerning the efficiency of justice and those concerning training are already spelled out in the Resolution establishing the CEPEJ ("initial and on-going training is a right and a duty of all those involved in the judicial service and is an essential requirement for justice to fulfil its functions" and training should "be guaranteed, in particular by taking into account the relevant Council of Europe international legal instruments").  A possible subject of co-operation between CEPEJ and the Lisbon Network is, therefore, training of judges on efficiency topics, such as case management, court management, alternative dispute resolution, and the use of technologies in the courtrooms.

The Council of Europe (CoE) Training Initiatives on Human Rights

Given the central role played by the Council of Europe (CoE) and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in the promotion of human rights in the European countries, a number of training initiatives have been organized to foster diffusion of human rights and to ensure their effective protection across Europe.  In particular, the CoE Directorate General of Human Rights and Legal Affairs has designed a Training Manual on the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).  Indeed, the Convention now forms part of the national law of the 47 Member States of the Council of Europe.  When states ratified the Convention, they pledged to secure the rights and freedoms contained in it for everyone within their jurisdiction.  This means that people whose professional work affects the enjoyment of rights guaranteed by the Convention need to be aware of the provisions of the Convention and of the standards developed by the ECtHR.  The Manual is not, and does not aspire to be, a comprehensive textbook or information resource for learning about the Convention.  The training should not only pass on information about the Convention’s standards, but also assist those being trained to make practical use of that information in real life situations.  Indeed, one of the aims of the training programme is to overcome the diffuse trainees’ perceptions that human rights have little practical relevance for trainees’ daily work—there may be considerable reluctance to attend and to participate in Convention training if the issues addressed in training are viewed as having no bearing on the discharge of daily responsibilities.  Therefore, the Manual aims to address specific aspects and challenges in the training on Convention by encouraging a practical case law-based approach.

In 2007, the CoE also launched a website for training judges and prosecutors on human rights, aimed at supporting its 47 Member States to integrate human rights into their training of judges and prosecutors, which is part of the European Programme for Human Rights Education for Legal Professionals (the “HELP” Programme).  The programme was intended to ensure that by 2009 the standards of the Convention, as interpreted in the case law of the ECtHR, were fully integrated into national curricula for professional training of judges and prosecutors in all Member States and that they become part of their basic knowledge.  The CoE web site contains standard curricula on the Convention, a manual on training methodology, and a collection of Convention training materials (slide shows, case studies, moot courts) to be used by trainers in the member states.  The site is open to the public, but there is a restricted area, only accessible with password, for judges, prosecutors, and trainers at the national training structures for the judiciary. This area of the site is interactive and provides tools to exchange materials and to discuss relevant matters.


This brief overview of the institutions and mechanisms involved in the process of the harmonization of judicial training in Europe shows the commitment of the European countries to achieving common guidelines and best practices in this field according to international standards and to fostering mutual understanding of the different legal systems.  In particular, as previously discussed, the EJTN and the Lisbon Network have implemented a number of activities and projects which have had a major impact on judicial training policies in the European countries.  Nonetheless, a thorough harmonization of judicial training is still a work in progress, facing a number of challenges ahead.

One of the issues to solve in the future is the need to avoid overlapping and waste of resources.  Indeed, given that both EJTN and Lisbon Network are responsible for the harmonization of judicial training in Europe, there is a need for an effective coordination and cooperation between them.  Close coordination with the Lisbon Network is already provided for by the EJTN statutes, since EJTN has a common constituency with the Lisbon Network.  It has thus been proposed that the Lisbon Network also establish a similar relationship to promote collaboration with EJTN.  Furthermore, there have been calls for the organizations responsible for harmonizing the judicial training in Europe to step up their commitment and widen their role.

There have been proposals that the Lisbon Network’s role could be not only that of a platform for the "Exchange of Information between Persons and Entities Responsible for the Training of Judges and Public Prosecutors," this being its main role as interpreted so far, but also for cooperation.  In addition, its role could include fostering the discussion of "common standards" that, while respecting the autonomy of each country and of single training institutions, may be regarded as benchmarks against which training actions and procedures may be measured.  If this is to be achieved, the internal organizational structure of the Network must be shaped accordingly.  A bi-annual meeting might help the early implementation of the idea behind the Lisbon Network, creating a system through which experiences and information on training of judges and prosecutors in Europe would be shared.  But in order to achieve the goals of the Network, a more sophisticated and proactive structure is needed.

For that purpose, in 2004, the Lisbon Network established a Bureau responsible for defining the network’s strategy and to help ensure continuity.  It also set up a Conference of Directors of European Schools of Magistrates, which can manage the technical aspects concerning initiatives in the judicial training field specific to such institutions.  Indeed, directors of schools of magistrates or similar national institutions already see themselves as a group.  They exchange ideas and methodologies, and sometimes they organize joint activities.  Their institutions are already part of regional arrangements, such as the EJTN.  In view of their experience as officers in charge of implementing training policies at the national level, directors of schools of magistrates seem especially prepared to meet during the intervals between plenary meetings of the Lisbon Network and to work using a common conceptual framework.

The Lisbon Network is also engaged in the creation of a data bank with appropriate indexes, concerning all training actions for judges and prosecutors performed all over Europe by partner schools.  Many schools have already developed their websites.  In these cases, a web-ring technique is employed.  So far, training syllabi of each school for the following year have been inserted into the data bank.  Mutualization of information in this field could stimulate a positive emulation among schools on certain themes, as well as the creation of standards toward yearly or long-term planning of training.

Regarding the EJTN, after an initial phase, in which the Network discussed general principles and compared solutions given by the several national systems, the time has come for the Network to envisage its own proposals to improve training of judges in Europe.  The Network should clarify European standards in the field of judicial training. The Network should also draft its own list of priority actions in the field of judicial and training.  These priorities, once drafted into a specific Networking Action Plan for the Training of Magistrates in Europe, would then be realized step-by-step over set time periods.  The introduction of a planning methodology will close the phase of the generalist approach so far adopted by the Network.  It will ensure that no actions overlap and that all topics are dealt with, even though they may seem less relevant in the context of the moment.

Based on seminars that were held in Lisbon from 8-9 November 2005 and in Vienna from 20-22 June 2006, the EJTN General Assembly of Helsinki (20-22 September 2006) approved a Strategic Plan for the years 2007-2013.  The goals of the plan are: to determine the objectives that will give clarity, coherence and thus, more strength to its activities; to develop an efficient strategy to achieve these objectives; to give visibility to the policy orientations and activities that it implements (internally and externally); and to position itself strategically at the European level at a time in which judicial training in Europe is evolving, most notably through the implementation of the Hague Programme and the development of the Framework Programme on Fundamental Rights and Justice (2007-2013).  The European Judicial Training Network Strategic Plan 2007-2013 defines the EJTN’s mission and purpose, the EJTN’s vision, the concrete results that it intends to achieve, and the strategy that the EJTN will deploy to realize its mission and vision. 

As part of the effort to activate alternative and additional mechanisms to foster a European culture of judicial training, especially in the area of human rights, in 2010 the EJTN organized a one-week study visit at the ECtHR for a number of judges and prosecutors.  Furthermore, within the Framework Partnership Agreement with the European Commission, the EJTN has launched a comprehensive, multi-year training programme entitled Language Training on the Vocabulary of Judicial Cooperation in Criminal Matters.  The programme will provide training on specific legal terminology, in both English and French, associated with the different legal instruments of judicial cooperation within criminal matters.  The aim is to help judges and prosecutors achieve efficient and effective communications during their work with various judicial authorities across Europe.  Six training seminars will be held over 2011 and 2012, with each seminar consisting of a five-day, face-to-face course.  The courses will combine theoretical and practical sessions of four basic language skills within legal terminology.  In order to extend the benefit of this training beyond the initial 300 participants, a training handbook in DVD format will be produced.  The handbook will include the course contents along with other related training materials.  The handbook will be available from the EJTN’s website, which will ensure the widest possible diffusion of knowledge and training across European organizations and national training institutions.

In conclusion, although major achievements have been gained towards the harmonization of judicial training in Europe, the full potential of this process has yet to be explored.  Nonetheless, what is most important at this juncture is the cultural shift that the European countries have recently undergone in judicial training, from the insular, self-centered national approach to a more genuinely open and cooperative one.  Judges in Europe now share the conviction that they all face similar challenges and responsibilities in the daily performance of their judicial functions and that the more the process of harmonization is effective and complete, the more they will be able to gain from each other’s professional experiences.

ASIl & International Judicial AcademyInternational Judicial Monitor
© 2012 – The International Judicial Academy
with assistance from the American Society of International Law.

Editor: James G. Apple.
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