On-spot training to gain a glimpse of an institution’s everyday work and proceedings is the core idea of a study visit. The global situation however requires re-thinking and re-shaping the concept of a first-hand insight into an institution without being on spot. Instead, distant training and videoconference have proven to be a worthy alternative for physical activities in European institutions and agencies.
A visit to a Court however is a different approach. Being in a Court building, attending hearings and seeing the courtroom have always been the most advantageous features of the study visits to the Court of Justice of the EU as the experience raises awareness and opens the doors of an institution that sometimes seems far away in the work of judges and prosecutors in the member states. Transforming these visits into webinars was therefore both a challenge as well as a chance to re-think the content of the study visits and pursue additional didactical approaches during its preparation.
The EJTN and the Court of Justice of the EU have had a long-lasting and trustful relation for a long time. Every year, study visits and long-term trainings take place on a regular basis and have become a highly demanded part of the Exchange Programme’s training offers. In times of COVID-19, it was both the Court’s as well as the EJTN’s wish to continue the trainings while maintaining social distancing and limiting travel movements of participants and project managers alike.
A new format was therefore to be found and profoundly tested given the sensitive information on cases and the work of the Court which is given to the participants during a study visit. It was also obvious that no Court hearing could be attended, one of the most well-assessed parts of the usual physical study visits. Thus, a case-based form of training had to be included in the agenda of the exchange.
Every interactive training needs a suitable platform. Thus, the Court of Justice and the EJTN Secretariat decided on the training platform Big Blue Button after testing and assessing various options of online conference tools. The software provides for a virtual classroom with the possibility to give the floor to participants and without a download and installation of additional software being compulsory. Hence, participants and presenters alike could easily access and use the platform, providing for a smooth and straightforward plunge into the content of the webinar.
The first day of the webinar consisted of presentations about various topics regarding the procedure before the Court of Justice, as well as the structure of the institution. Subsequently, the second day was dedicated to the interactive part of the virtual training: a case study with participants actively involved in the analysis of a case before the Court with a detailed breakdown of how a preliminary ruling procedure is initiated before the Court and which parties are involved.
The easy use of the webinar software made it possible that a discussion evolved, and many participants shared their views on the case at hand. Questions asked and opinions given were moderated by the EJTN and the Court experts themselves by observing the actions of the participants and providing for an orderly discussion.
Altogether, the project proved once again that judicial training is operational during the pandemic and that new formats of training make room for innovative and new forms of content in our trainings. The encouraging support from our partner institutions makes deeper and more intense training possible and encourages the EJTN to take further steps for a wider array of training possibilities if physical meetings are not possible.