Strengthening Judicial Independence and Integrity

The Conference of Chief Justices of the Supreme Courts of Central & Eastern Europe

In 2007, the CEELI Institute helped launch the Conference of Chief Justices of Central & Eastern Europe, which brings together the senior judges from the region’s highest courts to share and develop strategies and best practices to promote judicial integrity and accountability, to improve court management, and to combat corruption in the courts. The CEELI Institute’s efforts have supported the work of the Conference since its inception.

The Conference was launched in Prague, at the Institute, with support from the U.S. Department of State, and with personal involvement and commitment of United States Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. The Conference is now a self-sustaining body that meets annually in one of the countries represented. 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), Croatia (2015), and, most recently, Serbia (2016). The Supreme Court of Hungary will host in 2017, and the Supreme Court of Lithuania in 2018.

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 is joined in this effort by 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 ongoing role in supporting and advising the Conference on behalf of the Institute.

Among the notable achievements of the Conference was the signing, in 2015, of a Statement of Principles of the Independence of the Judiciary (known now as the Brijuni Statement after the name of the seaside Croatian town where the document was drafted and signed). 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. It represents a reaffirmation of a long-held and shared belief amongst its signatories in judicial independence as critical to upholding the rule of law. The 2016 conference saw the addition of two new courts, Georgia and Serbia, as signatories, bringing the total number of assenting courts to 18.

Central & Eastern European Judicial Exchange NetworkCEELI-48

The CEELI Institute is now in its sixth year of support for the 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 best practices on issues of judicial independence, integrity, and accountability. In September the CEELI Institute organized several events to address the increasing pressures on judges, and how to cope with them. These included a workshop on judicial ethics at the Institute’s Villa Grebovka in Prague, which provided the judges with a framework for dealing with external pressures, and for analyzing and resolving ethical issues that may arise in the course of judicial work.

In the coming year, particular attention will be 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 will also focus on issues related to the adjudiciation 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 CEELI Institute was proud to coordinate the production of a ground-breaking publication undertaken by judges from the Central and East European Judicial Exchange Network: “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. The judges undertook a comprehensive review of 130 relevant international documents, and then organized relevant standards according to thematic areas.

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 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. For example, Section II of the Manual assembles all relevant international standards which establish and clarify the principle of judicial independence in the administration of justice. Judges needing to justify their role in administration can quickly access the necessary underlying legal support. 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. We are deeply indebted to them for their commitment, skill, and insight both in the conceptualization and actualization of this project.

An additional document “Addendum on Independence, Impartiality and Integrity of the Judiciary: A Thematic Compilation of International and National Jurisprudence” was published in September 2017. This document shows the way in which relevant international standards have been used by different adjudicative authorities, and provides a useful supplementary tool for widespread promotion of underlying international standards on judicial independence, transparency and accountability. Similar to the Manual, the supplement document is an up-to-date reference that all legal professionals can use. 

Supporting Judicial Integrity in Tunisia

Since shortly after the Arab Spring brought democracy to Tunisia in 2012, the CEELI Institute has been part of an extraordinary effort to train and mentor over 1800 Tunisian judges on issues of judicial independence, judicial accountability, and the role of a judge in a democracy. Funded by the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA), and working in partnership with the Tunisian Ministry of Justice, the International Legal Assistance Consortium (“ILAC”), and the International Bar Association (“IBA”), this program brings together judges from all ranks and courts in Tunisia at regular trainings designed to improve professional skills, and to build the public’s confidence in the judiciary. The program addresses key issues affecting judges as their roles change profoundly due to the transitions from a totalitarian to a democratic society.

The bi-monthly programs run by the CEELI Institute and the IBA each consisted of approximately 25 judges. The course stressed the leadership role courts play in society, the importance of judicial independence, and political issues of leadership. Consistent with these ideas, the course provided 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.

This course was led by the CEELI Institute’s Senior Advisor for Judicial Affairs, Joel Martin, together with other rotating faculties. Program faculty teams pair “western“ judges (American or Western European) with judges from Central and Eastern Europe, who themselves had to negotiate similar transitions and reinterpret their judicial roles as their societies went from communism to democracy in short order.

In 2016, the Institute began using a follow-up curriculum, developed in coordination with Tunisian judges and other stakeholders and focusing on efforts to build and promote public trust in the judiciary. These ‘advanced’ sessions brought together smaller groups of highly experienced Tunisian judges who have previously worked with CEELI on other judicial projects. The judges addressed problems created for judges in Tunisia by the continuing lack of public trust in state institutions, a lingering legacy left of the Ben Ali era. Judges often have difficulty dealing with the intense media scrutiny, which distorts the picture of what is really going on in the courtroom. The program aims to encourage the judges to develop tools to effectively communicate and interact, focusing especially on their relationship with the media, communication with schools and universities, and enhancing courthouse user-friendliness for the citizens.

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, France, Norway, 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 the 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.

This year’s sessions under this program were conducted both at the CEELI Institute facility in Prague and at the IIJ facility in Malta, and include intensive 3-day workshops that aim 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 are 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 curriculum that will help participant judges gain a solid understanding of relevant best practices and how to incorporate them into their future work.