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), Georgia (2014), Croatia (2015), Serbia (2016), Hungary (2017) and, most recently, Lithuania (2018). The Supreme Court of Slovakia is hosting the conference in 2019.

The CEELI Institute continues to provide guidance and expertise to the Conference, led by the efforts of 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.

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). The Brijuni Statement represents a reaffirmation of a long-held and shared belief amongst its signatories in judicial independence as critical to upholding the rule of law. As of 2016, 18 courts had signed the Statement, and it has been translated into six languages.

Central & Eastern European Judicial Exchange Network


Since 2012, the CEELI Institute has been supporting 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, transparency, accountability, efficiency, and ethics. The judges are increasingly concerned about coping with the external pressures—political, societal, media—that work to undermine judicial independence in the region.To date, the Network has brought together over 100 young, reform-minded judges from across the region on an ongoing basis to pursue projects designed to promote judicial independence and institutional reform.

Among the specific topics addressed within the Network are judicial ethics; management of conflicts of interests and outside activities; comparative procedures for discipline and dismissal of individual judges accused of corruption or malfeasance; appropriate communication with the press and public; the impact of social media on the judiciary; the degree to which judges as public officials must sacrifice some degree of privacy in the interest or transparency; the implications for judges of asset disclosure requirements; the manner and degree to which judges should be required to disclose their personal information; the standards and conditions for lustration procedures.

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.

EU Criminal Procedure:  Partnering with the Association of Croatian Judges

The CEELI Institute was proud to partner this year with the Association of Croatian Judges to deliver a series of continuing legal education programs for judges from Central and Eastern EU member states on relevant EU instruments and directives governing the application of criminal law—norms, which are often disregarded in national courts.The project was designed particularly to strengthen judicial respect and protections for the legal rights of defendants in criminal proceedings by promoting greater understanding among judges charged with applying the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights in the field of criminal justice; training specifically addressed the right to information in criminal proceedings (Directive 2012/13/EU), and the right of access to a lawyer in criminal proceedings (Directive 2013/48/EU).  This effort was particularly significant in that it made language accommodations for non-English speaking judges from Croatia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Judges from Bulgaria, Hungary, Lithuania, Romania and Slovenia also participated. The partnership on this project with the Association of Croatian Judges was a natural extension of our long cooperative relationship, which has included collaboration by the Institute and the Association on an ongoing series of international judicial conferences in Croatia.

This project was funded by the European Union.

Providing Lifelines for Syrian Judges in Exile

 The CEELI Institute continues to partner with the Swedish-based International Legal Assistance Consortium (ILAC) to deliver programs that offer a professional lifeline to Syrian judges and lawyers who are now in exile in Turkey but who hold on to the hope of one day returning to their country to rebuild the justice system. Many of the exiled judges remain actively involved with international organizations that are working with refugees in Turkey, for example, by assisting with efforts to maintain basic public records of births, death, and marriages, in the absence of any formal mechanism for recording such crucial life events. All of these Syrian judges are looking ahead to possible scenarios that might occur in Syria after the conflict ends.

The Institute has convened several programs in Gaziantep, Turkey, to facilitate discussions among the judges and to explore core issues related to their role in the emerging post-conflict society, where both the rule of law and democratic values will not be firmly established. Our goal is to promote discussion and engagement on the challenges Syrian judges face, and on the ways in which the judges can begin to prepare for their roles in an immediate post-conflict environment. One of the primary concerns were scenarios for the restitution of housing, land and property rights in a post conflict situations; other topics included re-establishment and reinstatement of a legitimized judiciary after a conflict, and the creation and management of judicial associations.

At present, the Syrian judges feel cut off and removed from the larger world. Our efforts are thus also intended to provide opportunities for them to engage with networks of judges from other countries that have emerged from conflicts. Ultimately, the success of post-conflict processes in Syria will depend on the expertise and readiness of Syrian actors, such as these judges, who are prepared to lead reform efforts. The project is funded by the Swedish International Development Administration (SIDA).

Facilitating Judicial Exchanges: India

The CEELI Institute continues a multi-year partnership with the National Judicial Academy (NJA) of India and the U.S. Federal Judicial Center (FJC), to promote exchanges between U.S. and Indian judges on issues related to the adjudication of complex cases involving terrorism and national security crimes.  As with our work in MENA and the Balkans on this subject matter, the Institute based the curriculum and exchange around the Global Counter-Terrorism Forum’s Hague Memorandum on Good Practices for the Judiciary in Adjudicating Terrorism Offenses. The document is particularly useful in this context, as both India and the US are members of the GCTF, both participated in the drafting, and both approved the Hague Memorandum (the CEELI Institute is also proud to have participated in the drafting of The Hague Memorandum, which was approved in plenary by the GCTF in 2015).

In September 2018, the Institute facilitated a second international exchange between Indian high court justices and U.S. federal judges; with sessions held at the FJC in Washington, and at the U.S. District Court in Orange Country, California. The exchange built off earlier engagements which CEELI organized at the NJA in Bhopal, India, and addressed challenges facing the Indian judiciary in the context of high-profile terrorism cases. The assembled Indian justices will next undertake the task of creating the first India-specific counterterrorism curriculum to be used at the NJA. Using The Hague Memorandumas a framework for the effort, the new curriculum will be used to reach a much wider cross-section of Indian trial court judges on the frontline in handling terrorism cases. The Institute also helps the NJA launch its counterterrorism program with the curriculum currently in development.

Past programs:

Burma: Judging In a Democratic Society

In 2018, the CEELI Institute was requested to conduct several sessions of its signature course, “Judging in a Democratic Society,” at locations across Burma.  The course was initially developed for delivery in Central and Eastern Europe as those countries transitioned to fully democratic societies with fully independent judiciaries.  More recently, the course was successfully adapted for the Tunisian judiciary, with well over one thousand Tunisian judges participating in the course with an overwhelmingly positive response. The program addresses several key issues common to judiciaries everywhere, especially in countries aspiring for a more democratic order. Topics addressed include judicial independence, relations with other branches of government, relations of the judiciary with the public and the media, judicial ethics, the role of judicial organizations, case management, and court administration. There is particular emphasis on human rights law, both domestic and international.  The course design is one of facilitated discussion, rather than lectures.  Participants explore a number of hypothetical situations, and are called upon to work through application of international standards and to explore practical ways to address problems that they encounter. The Burma sessions were held over a multi-week period in Yangon, Nay Pyi Taw and Mandalay, with over 100 judges participating.

Supporting Judicial Integrity in Tunisia

Since shortly after the Arab Spring brought democracy to Tunisia in 2012, the CEELI Institute had 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.

This course was primarily 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 2016-2017, 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. The program aimed 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.

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 concluded 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.