With the ongoing support from the US State Department’s INL Bureau, the CEELI Institute’s Network for Rising Judges from Central and Eastern Europe continues its robust schedule of activities for a seventh year. The Network engages over 150 judges from 18 countries of the region, and continues to focus on issues that are of priority to the region’s young judges as they negotiate an increasingly challenging environment, complicated by attacks on judicial independence, expanding caseloads, and other external pressures on the profession. The Network’s most recent gathering was in Prague, at the Institute, in late February, where special focus was given to issues of fighting corruption in the judiciary through the use of greater transparency in court administration and procedures. The Network’s core working group is also in the final stages of completing a report providing Practical Guidelines on the Use of Social Media by Judges, and continues to edit and expand its Manual on Integrity, Independence and Impartiality of the Judiciary, a compendium of relevant international standards and guidance. Through the coming year, we look forward to further Network activities, to include webinars on relevant topics, in-country events in Poland (highlighting the need for judicial independence), Georgia (addressing challenges arising for judges from social media), and ongoing cooperation with the United National Global Judicial Integrity Network. CEELI also continues to mentor Network judges by incorporating them, where possible, as faculty in other CEELI training events.
In January, the CEELI Institute hosted the latest meeting of our Central and East European Judicial Exchange Network, comprised of some of the best and brightest young judges from eighteen countries in the region who have come together to share their best practices on issues of judicial independence, integrity, and accountability. This project is funded through a generous ongoing grant from the US Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (NL). The program focused on supporting judicial efforts to combat corruption both within and without the profession. In addition to examining issues of transparency in the conduct of the judicial profession, participating judges also examined issues related to the adjudication of corruption cases, including the unique evidentiary issues presented in such cases and the need for judges to understand complex financial documents and testimony by experts versed in forensic accounting techniques. The judges also used the meeting as an opportunity to continue updates to Network‘s The Manual on Independence, Impartiality and Integrity of Justice: A Thematic Compilation of International Standards, Policies and Best Practices. The Manual represents a systematic effort to survey relevant international standards applicable to the judiciary, and is now in wide use by courts across the region. The Manual provides easily accessible, substantive legal support for issues related to the status, work, rights, and responsibilities of judges. It has proved useful to judges who are pushing back against governmental infringements on their functions.
On December 18, 2015, the CEELI Institute, as part of its Central and Eastern European Judicial Network program, organized an online workshop on the “Evaluation of Judges.” The webinar was led by Mr. Pim Albers, an independent Dutch expert with global expertise in issues related to the judiciary and court administration. Mr. Albers gave an in-depth overview of international standards related to the evaluation of judges, how to develop and use clear performance standards and neutral performance indicators, and shared his experiences from recent initiatives on the evaluation of judges in Ukraine and Moldova. All ten judges from across the CEE region who participated in the event appreciated the presentation and supplemental discussion, as methods used for evaluating judges remains a highly charged and politically controversial issue across this region. The CEELI Institute intends to continue to initiate dialogue on this particular issue, and involve more international experts and judges to participate. Similar events are planned for late February/early March 2016.
With CEELI Insitute support and encouragement, the Supreme Courts of Central and Eastern Europe have joined together to sign a landmark Statement of Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary. The Principles were approved at the Annual Conference of the Chief Justices, hosted by the Supreme Court of Croatia, in Brijuni, Croatia, in October 2015. Justices from the Supreme Courts of 16 participating countries from the region signed the Statement. It represents the culmination of three years of work by the Justices.
The Statement is to some extent modeled on the 1997 Beijing Statement of Principles of the Independence of the Judiciary, drafted and signed by the Conference of Chief Justices of the Asia Pacific Region. The “Brijuni Statement of Principles“ will now stand alongside the Bangalore Principles and other key international instruments which provide a foundation in international law for the concept of an independent judiciary as fundamental to the Rule of Law. As the Brijuni Principles themselves state: “[T]he implementation and protection of all rights depends on the existence of a competent, independent, and impartial judiciary.“ As was stated by the Hon. Branko Hrvatin, President of the Supreme Court of Croatia, “The Brijuni Statement represents the unwavering commitment by the Judiciaries of Central and Eastern Europe to the rule of law, and to a shared belief in judicial independence.“
Significantly, the Conference of Chief Justices of Central and Eastern Europe was originally launched with INL support, at the CEELI Insitute in Prague, back in 2011, with participation of Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Since then, it has become a self-sustaining annual effort, largely organized and financed by the participating Courts themselves. The CEELI Insitute, along with our board member, Judge John M. Walker, Jr., of the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, continue to be actively involved in supporting the efforts and organization of the Conference. Judge Walker was instrumental in bringing the Brijuni Statement to completion.
A copy of the Brijuni Statement is available on the CEELI Institute website at www.ceeliinstitute.org, and we will be printing hard copy versions for distribution to the participating courts. The original, signed copies of the Brijuni Statement will continue to be preserved and maintained by the Supreme Court of Croatia.
The Conference of Chief Justices of Central and Eastern Europe is a self-sustaining organization whose members are the Supreme Court Chief Justices who lead the judiciaries of twenty-three nations from the Baltic Sea to the Caucasus, including the Balkan Peninsula. The Conference meets annually in one of the member countries to address the many common challenges faced by the Chief Justices in improving their countries’ judiciaries, promoting judicial independence, strengthening integrity and accountability, improving court management, fighting corruption, and building public support for the courts. The CEELI Institute has been honored to support the work and mission of the Conference since its inception in 2011.
This year’s Conference was hosted by the Supreme Court of Croatia, from 11-14 October at the seaside Croatian town of Brijuni. Notably, this year’s session saw the culmination of work over the past three years, with the signing by the assembled judges of the Statement of Principles of the Independence of the Judiciary, known now as the Brijuni Statement. As noted by this year’s Conference host, the Honorable Branko Hrvatin, President of the Supreme Court of Croatia, the Brijuni Statement represents a “clear commitment by the Judges of Central and Eastern Europe to the Rule of Law.” The Brijuni Statement reaffirms the fundamental principles of judicial independence and integrity, and adds to the body of international instruments that recognize that true judicial independence, both institutional and individual, is indispensable to the successful functioning of the judiciary under the rule of law.
The Brijuni Statement is modeled after a similar effort undertaken by the Conference of Chief Justices of Asia and the Pacific, which resulted in the adoption of the Beijing Statement of Principles of the Independence of the Judiciary in 1995. The Brijuni Statement is a reaffirmation of a long-held and shared belief amongst its signatories in judicial independence and the obligation to uphold the rule of law.
The CEELI Institute’s efforts have supported the work of the Conference of Chief Justices of Central and Eastern Europe since its inception in 2011. Indeed, the formal organization of the Conference was preceded by two Judicial Integrity Roundtables held at the Institute in 2007 and 2010. The Conference itself was launched in Prague, at the Institute, with support from the U.S. Department of State, and with the commitment of United States Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who attended the first Conference, and Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. The Conference is now a self-sustaining body that meets annually in one of the countries represented, and provides the opportunity for the Chief Justices to discuss common challenges, share ideas and work towards solutions. The Conference continues to flourish and since its inception has rotated between member states, each year hosted by a Chief Justice from a different country. Conferences over the past several years have been hosted by Chief Justices from Albania (2012), Montenegro (2013), the Republic of Georgia (2014), and, most recently, Croatia (2015).
The CEELI Institute continues to provide guidance and expertise to the Conference through CEELI Institute Board member, Judge John M. Walker, former Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Judge Walker also enlisted the support of Judge Clifford J. Wallace, former Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, whose extensive experience includes establishing a similar conference for the countries of Asia and the Pacific. Both judges, who are active in rule-of-law development, have an on-going role in supporting and advising the Conference on behalf of the Institute.
The CEELI Institute is gratified to be able to support the publication and distribution of the Brijuni Statement of Principles of the Independence of the Judiciary. The Brijuni Statement will be published and hosted on the CEELI Institute website. It joins other useful legal instruments addressing judicial independence the drafting of which have been supported by the CEELI Institute, including the Manual on Independence, Impartiality and Integrity of Justice: A thematic Compilation of International Standards, Policies and Best Practices.