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.
Central & Eastern European Judicial Exchange Network
Building off the success of the Conference of Chief Justices, in 2012 the CEELI Institute launched a similar effort for younger, non-high court judges, with the support of the State Department’s Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL). Known as the Central & Eastern European Judicial Exchange Network, this effort has now brought together more than 80 judges and court administrators from 19 countries across the region, including Albania, Azerbaijan, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Georgia, Hungary, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, and Ukraine, to learn from one another and exchange best practices on issues of judicial integrity and accountability and court efficiency. The main goal of the program and partnership is to enhance judicial integrity and the public’s confidence in the judiciary across Central & Eastern Europe by establishing a professional peer exchange network of judges and court administrators.
The CEELI Institute organizes a number of annual events designed to build a sustainable peer support network around the issues of judicial integrity and court efficiency. Since its launch, the Network has met at four Roundtable events held at the CEELI Institute’s headquarters in Prague, six smaller, targeted workshops and one international conference throughout the region. The Roundtable’s theme for 2015 was Balancing Judicial Independence and Accountability. The Network members addressed the issues of examination of mechanisms for judicial evaluation; standards governing relations with the media; appropriate judicial responses to media pressure; exploration of the space for cooperation between NGOs and judiciary;and the use (and dangers) of new social media. The most recent regional event International Judicial Conference which took place on September 18-19 2015 in Zadar, Croatia, looked at the topics of evaluation of judges, judicial ethics and effectiveness of the European Convention on Human Rights. The conference was co-organized by the CEELI Institute and Association of Croatian Judges (ACJ), Zadar Brunch. Participants included 50 mid-career judges from Croatia and throughout the Western, Central and Eastern Europe.
Besides that the judges have developed their own signature project “Manual on Independence, Impartiality and Integrity of Justice: A Thematic Compilation of International Standards, Policies and Best Practices” which compiles thematically more than 130 international standards related to judiciary. The Manual constitutes an easy-to-use reference tool to facilitate day-to-day work of judges both in the region and worldwide. It is particularly useful in societies still undergoing transitions, and where the judiciaries are still struggling to assert and establish their full independence. The Manual represents an extraordinary commitment of time and effort by the Network judges who participated in this project. They undertook extensive independent research and editing, coming together periodically at the Institute to coordinate and collaborate on their work. The Manual has been finished in May 2015 and is now published on the CEELI website free of charge.
Supporting Judicial Integrity in Tunisia
Since 2012, our work has brought us to Tunisia where the CEELI Institute is part of an extraordinary effort to train and mentor nearly 2,100 Tunisian judges on judicial accountability and the principles of judging in a democracy. Funded by the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA), and working in partnership with the International Legal Assistance Consortium (ILAC) and the International Bar Association (IBA), this program brings together judges from all ranks and courts in Tunisia to twice-monthly trainings designed to improve professional skills, and to build the public’s confidence in the judiciary.
The bi-monthly programs run by the CEELI Institute and the IBA each program consist of approximately 30 judges. The course stresses the leadership role judges play in society, the importance of judicial independence, and political issues of leadership. Consistent with these ideas, the course provides training in a variety of areas, including the role of a judge in a democratic society, tools required to make courts fair and efficient, judicial independence, ethics, relations with the public and with other branches of government, court administration, human rights principles, and transparency in procedure and decisions. Tunisian participants in the course report the immediate positive impact the training has had on their work on matters such as ethical principles and preparation of judicial decisions.
Faculty members brought to Tunis have been both extremely well received by the participant judges and uniformly impressed by the Tunisian judges. The faculty has included judges from the United States, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Croatia, Slovakia, Poland, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Romania.
Bolstering Counterterrorism Adjudication in the Balkans and Beyond
The CEELI Institute recently began a multi-year program that will engage judges handling complex cases involving issues of terrorism and national security, including the increasingly serious threats posed in Europe by the transit of foreign fighters. In particular, the program aims to promote understanding and use of relevant international “good practices” for judges on these matters, including particularly the Global Counterterrorism Forum’s (GCTF) Hague Memorandum Good Practices for the Judiciary in Adjudicating Terrorism Offenses. The program effort is being undertaken in partnership with the Malta-based International Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law (IIJ) and with funding from the US State Department. Participating judges will be drawn primarily from the Western Balkans and Middle East/North Africa (MENA) regions.
In light of the increased terrorism across Europe, the vast transit of refugees to Europe from Syria, the continuing conflicts in Syria and Iraq, and the particular burdens this puts on both the Balkan countries and countries throughout MENA, the issues encompassed by the GCTF Good Practice documents are more important than ever. Judges across the region will benefit from greater training and preparation on how to handle cases involving both domestic terrorism and the new phenomenon presented by foreign fighters.
The initial sessions are being conducted at the CEELI Institute facility in Prague, and include an intensive 3-day workshop that aims to familiarize the judges with the “Good Practice” documents and expand on their meanings, implications, and relevance to cases the judges might find themselves presiding over in the near future. Workshops will be regionally specific and the Institute intends on training no fewer than 80 judges over the course of this project. International experts from both Europe and the United States will be engaged throughout the project to help create a thorough, yet understandable curricula that will help participant judges gain a solid understanding of relevant best practices and how to incorporate them into their future work.