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An introduction to the European Law Institute

by Christiane Wendehorst
27 March 2019

Christiane Wendehorst, president of the European Law Institute (ELI), discusses the work they do and how you and your firm can get involved.

In these difficult times characterised by fast-moving technological and societal change, the law has difficulty in keeping up.

The European Law Institute makes it its business to bring the various legal professions - practitioners, judges, academics, lawyers in government service - from the broadest possible range of legal traditions together in a spirit of mutual trust as a platform for research, discourse and cooperation with a view to promoting the reform of the law.

Founded in June 2011, the ELI has established itself on the international legal landscape as an important hub of ideas and initiatives.

Its founding members came from all over Europe and include eminent British lawyers such as Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (former lord chief justice and a member of the ELI Executive Committee), Lord Mance and Sir Francis Jacobs QC.

Modelled on the American Law Institute (ALI), the ELI aims to improve the quality of the law, understood in the broadest sense, by initiating, conducting and facilitating research, making recommendations, and providing practical guidance.

The ELI’s 1,600 individual members come from over 60 jurisdictions with a sizeable number from the UK.

Its over 100 Institutional observers include the UK Supreme Court, the Law Society of England and Wales and the British Institute of International and Comparative Law (BIICL).

Among other observers there are the European Parliament, the Court of Justice of the European Union, the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL).

Many of these are actively involved in the ELI’s core activity, its projects, which cover all branches of the law: substantive and procedural, private and public.

Under its statute, the ELI can only embark on projects that aim at serving the people, companies and organisations in Europe and that are capable of producing results which can be of immediate practical utility.

Indeed, the ELI is involved in a whole series of projects aimed at enhancing legal integration and improving the law in Europe.

For example, it has just published a major study on the reform of insolvency law, which is one of the most penetrating and well-documented studies on the subject in European law.

It is also worth mentioning the recently published joint statement with the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary (ENCJ) on the principled relationship of formal and informal justice through the courts and alternative dispute resolution.

Conducted under the mantle of Diana Wallis (who is experienced in ADR, a former president of the ELI and vice president of the European Parliament) and Sir Geoffrey Vos (chancellor of the High Court, former president of the ENCJ), the project identifies European best practice in relation to the approach that courts and judges should adopt in interacting with all types of ADR processes.

The ELI has a number of projects relevant to the digital revolution including, online intermediary platforms, blockchain technology and access to digital assets.

It is also engaged in a joint project with the ALI on the principles for a data economy; one of the joint chairs is Lord Thomas.

A further important collaborative project is that with the International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (UNIDROIT) on European rules of civil procedure.

Diana Wallis and John Sorabji (principal legal adviser to the lord chief justice and the master of the rolls) belong to the members of the steering committee overseeing as many as nine different working groups aiming to produce a model universal civil procedural code that seeks to reduce uncertainty for parties litigating in transnational circumstances and, in doing so, to promote fairness in judicial proceedings.

The increasing mobility of individuals (and their assets) also underlies the ELI’s project on the protection of adults in international situations.

Led by Richard Frimston (partner at Russell-Cooke Solicitors) and Pietro Franzina (an academic with expertise in private international law), the team aims to lay down a detailed draft text of a possible measure on the subject.

Many of the ELI’s projects have gained attention and have gone on to be of significant practical utility.

This was the case, for example, with the ELI’s Instrument on the rescue of business in insolvency law mentioned earlier, which was cited by the UK government in late 2018 in its announcement on new legislative tools to improve rescue opportunities for financially distressed companies.

You will find more about our projects, prospective, current and past, on our website and can download our output free of charge.

The ELI is well respected by the European institutions and we can refer this regard to the remarks of the European commissioner for justice, consumers and gender equality, Věra Jourová:

‘Since its founding, the ELI has worked hard to enhance European legal integration, improve law-making and above all, to inspire trust among jurists of different vocations and from different legal cultures. In the only few years of its activities, the ELI has already provided us with invaluable advice on many different initiatives and I rely on your continued support.’

Notwithstanding our involvement with the EU, I would stress that the ELI is independent of the EU institutions and was founded on the express basis that it was European in the broadest sense, with members from all over our continent, irrespective of whether their home state is a member state of the EU.

The ELI is unique not only in bringing together jurists from different legal traditions and professions and all countries in Europe.

As a membership-based organisation, it is its constituents who run it and shape its course. It is also its constituents, through its elected council, who approve projects to go ahead under its auspices, and it is they who critique and ultimately vote on whether to approve projects as worthy of the ELI’s seal.

Apart from projects, the ELI affords other collaborative avenues. In 2013, the ELI’s first president, Sir Francis Jacobs QC launched the UK hub.

10 others have since been established, with the Belgium/Luxembourg hub becoming operational in the near future. Hubs are a practical means through which ELI members can meet closer to home, communicate in their native language, discuss current or upcoming projects, and generate ideas for future ELI activities.

Like hubs, special interest groups (SIGs) are a core part of the ELI’s structure, providing subject-based expertise and progressive ideas for future developments in the law.

Among the various SIGs it is worth mentioning that on fundamental rights law, which is chaired by Sir Jeffrey Jowell QC and Sabino Cassese (a law professor and former Italian Constitutional Court judge).

What might be the interest for a law firm to be part of the ELI?

In the first place, there is the possibility for members of the firm to participate actively in the development of European law.

Every member of the ELI has the right to join, in particular, a project’s Members Consultative Committee, closely monitor the development, get access to interim drafts and background information, and actively influence the direction a project is going to take. I would stress that the opinions of the ELI are invariably taken seriously by the European institutions.

Secondly, your logo will appear on the ELI website; this may enhance the image of your firm/chambers both generally and vis-à-vis European players.

Thirdly, in addition to access to the European institutions, the ELI also opens the door to an extraordinary wealth of knowledge and contacts at European level.

Active membership of the ELI brings you into contact with distinguished university professors, judges and other professionals active in the Institute and guarantees access to its past, present and future work.

I firmly believe that whatever the outcome of the changes that lie ahead, it is in the interest of the UK and the rest of Europe that our legal professions remain in close contact.

May I therefore take this opportunity of inviting you to subscribe to our free newsletter which is issued every two months.

This circular, which has seen contributions by Antonio Tajani (president of the European Parliament), Guido Raimondi (president of the European Court of Human Rights), Klaus-Heiner Lehre (president of the European Court of Auditors) and Páll Hreinsson (president of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) Court), among others, is a means to keep ELI members and newsletter subscribers informed about ELI activities in the preceding two months.

Let me close by inviting you to our annual conference which, this year, will take place in Vienna from 4 to 6 September 2019.

I very much look forward to welcoming you then and to exploring collaborative avenues aimed at the betterment of laws in Europe.

Christiane Wendehorst is president of the European Law Institute (ELI).

To see more closely what the European Law Institute is doing, visit its website

If you are interested in becoming a fellow of the ELI or an observer, you can apply online.

As a young institution, the ELI is dependent on the support of its members and in the process of drawing up rules on sponsorship.

Should your firm be interested in sponsorship possibilities, contact the ELI’s secretary general, Dr Vanessa Wilcox at secretarygeneral@europeanlawinstitute.eu.