The CEELI Institute continues its work with its core working group of judges from across Central and Eastern Europe to revise, expand and edit the Institute’s Manual on Independence, Impartiality and Integrity of Justice. The Manual is a unique tool, representing a systematic survey of virtually all relevant international standards applicable to the function, performance and operation of the judiciary. It cross-references over 130 international conventions and other sources of public international law, organizing relevant sources according to thematic categories of interest and use to judges in their work. The tool is, in short, a map to the judicial profession and the international standards that underpin it. The Manual represents an extraordinary commitment of time and effort by the Working Group judges, who undertook extensive independent research and editing, and who continue to come together periodically at the Institute to coordinate and collaborate on their work. It is already being widely used and referenced in the region. It is particularly useful in societies still undergoing transitions, and where the judiciaries are still struggling to assert and establish their full independence. We are currently planning an appendix to the Manual, which will index additional relevant materials, including jurisprudence and judicial opinions from international fora such as the European Court of Human Rights.
In late September, the CEELI Institute was again be able to support the efforts of the Croatian Judiciary as it grapples with challenges related to the independence and impartiality of justice—both of which continue to be under challenge in the region. Content of the program was particularly framed around Opinion No. 18 of Consultative Council of European Judges (CCJE) addressing “the position of the judiciary and its relation with other powers of state in a modern democracy.” Discussions were further augmented by reference to relevant case decisions of the European Court of Human Rights and the concepts of impartiality and independence articulated and defined therein. Such discussions are particularly relevant in the region, as working level judges are not, contrary to common assumption, well versed in the broader jurisprudence of the EU or the COE, or its application and relevance to their daily work.
The program, organized in cooperation with the Croatian Association of Judges, the University of Zadar, and the US Embassy in Zagreb, was attended by over 70 judges from Croatia and from other countries across the region.
The CEELI Institute is continuing its long work with the Tunisian judiciary, now focusing on a selected group of the most proactive judges from the sessions conducted over the past three years (2013-2015). This new phase of our engagement addresses public trust in the judiciary – a topic selected by the judges themselves. The participating judges have prioritized several aspects crucial for public trust in the judiciary, including relationship with the media, and greater outreach and educational programs for university and high school students. The judges are also committed to work on a judicial code of conduct, which they recognize will be helpful tool in garnering public trust. CEELI has worked with the judges to create relevant working groups, and to develop their plans for action outlining steps they can realistically take at the level of individual courthouses. This current effort is complementary to some of the ongoing efforts of the Tunisian judicial associations and institutes. CEELI hopes to encourage examples of individual initiative on the part of judges, with the aims of achieving concrete results and setting good practice examples in a format accessible to other Tunisian judges who are willing to work proactively and positively influence their professional environment.
The current efforts build on the CEELI Institute’s work with Tunisian judges since 2013, in cooperation with the Swedish based International Legal Assistance Consortium. In coordination with the Tunisian Ministry of Justice, CEELI has engaged over 800 Tunisian judges through our workshop, “Judging in a Democratic Society”. That program focused on the role of a judge and the legal and social changes brought by democratic transformation, and also employed the expertise of judges from Central and Eastern European countries that have themselves negotiated the difficult transition from a totalitarian state to democracy.
An increasingly important aspect of the CEELI Institute’s continuing engagement with judiciaries across the region involves exploration of the relationships between the judiciary and the media. Discussions and materials addressing this topic is in high demand among judges who are faced with increasing media pressures, especially while handling political sensitive cases and high level corruption cases. Judges must also increasingly negotiate the potential pitfalls surrounding the use of social media platforms. Judges are concerned about their rights to privacy in an age of increasing media attention, and are also unclear on where the boundaries should be set in dealing with the press. They are also challenged in balancing the public’s interest against the rights of the parties before the court. The CEELI Institute has been honored to work with an increasingly diverse cadre of experts in this field, to explore these critical issues. We also work to foster communication skills of courts and judges in dealing with the public, and in responding to outside scrutiny. These issues are increasingly incorporated into many of the judicial programs now organized by the Institute.
As part of our continuing engagement with the judiciaries from across the Central and East European region, the CEELI Institute recently co-sponsored an event, in cooperation with the Supreme Court of Macedonia addressing the ongoing challenges to judicial independence across the region—both within and without the EU. The program, held in late October, at Lake Ohrid, drew over 70 participants, including judges from Albania, Bosnia and Hercegovina, Croatia, Georgia, Kosovo, Lithuania, Poland, Serbia and Slovenia. The event provided a critically important platform for judges to exchange views and experiences in how best to respond to increasing external pressures on the judiciary. Particular attention was devoted to how judges can most effectively cope with pressures from the media, from the government and from external political sources, without compromising their integrity. For judiciaries still emerging from communist past, these issues have never been fully resolved. Judges in the region must continue to grapple with balancing their accountability and independence. This event was also generously supported by the US Embassy in Skopje and by the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL).