Head of ICJ’s Centre for the Independence of Judges & Lawyers, Matt Pollard, today moderated a side event on “Securing the independence and effectiveness of the Judiciary: European initiatives and perspectives in global context” at the UN Human Rights Council.
Matt Pollard discussed the impact of Council of Europe standards and jurisprudence, both within Europe and in terms of global influence, from the perspective of civil society, as well as highlighting that standards and jurisprudence developed in other regions also present a rich source that European institutions should do more to draw on in their own work.
The interactive Panel discussion included extensive questions and comments from state delegations and civil society representatives in attendance at the event.
Mr. Georg Stawa, President of the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice, Council of Europe
Mr. Bart van Lierop, President of the Consultative Council of European Judges
Mrs. Gabriela Knaul, UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers
Mr. Matt Pollard, Centre for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, International Commission of Jurists (moderator)
This side event was organised by the Permanent Delegation of the Council of Europe to the UN Office in Geneva, with the co-sponsorship of Australia, Botswana, Hungary, Mexico as the main sponsors of the resolution on the independence of judges and lawyers.
A new ICJ report concludes that a comprehensive reform of the system judicial appointments and promotions, as well as of other aspects of the judicial system, is essential to ensure that the judiciary in Russia is independent and able to be an effective guardian of the Rule of Law.
Following a mission to the Russian Federation, the report examines issues of judicial selection, the appointment and promotion of judges, considers the institutional, procedural and practical aspects of judicial appointments and promotions.
The Supreme Court and the High Arbitration Court of the Russian Federation merger and a process of re-appointment of judges to the new Supreme Court, which was highly relevant to the mission’s more general concern with judicial appointments, are addressed in the report.
The ICJ condemns the imminent “trial” of Constitutional Court judges by Bolivia’s Senate, in proceedings that could see the judges sent to prison over politicians’ disagreement with a legal ruling.
The proceedings “violate the independence of the judiciary and the right to fair trial,” the Geneva-based organization wrote today in an open letter to all Senators and Deputies of the legislative assembly.
The charges in the trial, scheduled to begin on 21 October, are based entirely on a precautionary ruling by the judges that parts of a new law regulating notaries should not be implemented until the Court has an opportunity to hear a constitutional challenge to the law.
“The spectacle of dozens of politicians pretending to act as an independent and impartial criminal court, threatening to throw constitutional court judges in jail over a difference of opinion as to interpretation of the law, is incompatible with respect for human rights, the separation of powers, and the rule of law,” said Matt Pollard, Head of the Centre for Independence of Judges and Lawyers at the ICJ.
The ICJ’s Centre for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers (CIJL) has launched the first in a series of Country Profiles, a new online tool on the ICJ’s website.
Profiles on Myanmar, the Russian Federation, South Sudan and Swaziland are being published today. Tunisia, Venezuela and Honduras will be added in the coming months. By the end of 2014, all five regions in which the ICJ is active will be represented (Asia-Pacific, Africa, Europe, Latin America, MENA). The CIJL plans to add further countries on an on-going basis, and periodically to update existing profiles.
Statement on judiciary in Russian Federation, and individual cases in Venezuela and Swaziland
The ICJ today made an oral statement at the UN Human Rights Council, in the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, responding to her report on her visit to the Russian Federation.
The statement also highlighted the case of reprisals against judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni from Venezuela, and the arbitrary detention and unfair trial of human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko and journalist Bheki Makhubu in Swaziland.
The statement affirmed that although some progress has been made in legal and institutional reforms to develop an independent and impartial judiciary in Russia, advances remain extremely fragile and are threatened by retrogressive legislative measures, by corruption and by undue influence.
The greatest obstacle is a pervasive mind-set amongst judges who see themselves as executive officials rather than as exercising an autonomous judicial role.
The statement discussed improper influence in selection, appointments and removals of judges in Russia.
It also stressed concerns around the merger of the Supreme Court and High Arbitration Court into a new unified Supreme Court for the Russian Federation.
The ICJ also highlighted the case of Judge María Lourdes Afiuni from Venzuela, emblematic of a wider crisis for the rule of law in Venezuela.
After a lengthy period of arbitrary detention in which she was subjected to gross abuses, she remains enmeshed in a seemingly endless criminal procedure.
She was targeted solely for having duly performed her functions as a judge, after she ended a detention that had been recognised as arbitrary by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
The statement also thanked the Special Rapporteur for her press release, issued jointly with three other special procedures on 12 June, about human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko and journalist Bheki Makhubu, who are under arbitrary detention and unfair trial in Swaziland.
The representatives of Venezuela interrupted the ICJ statement, invoking a point of order.
In her closing comments, the Special Rapporteur reiterated her concerns about the case of Judge Afiuni, calling once again for all charges against her to be dropped and for her to be reinstated.
The ICJ June 2014 report on the rule of law in Venezuela is available here.
A 2012 ICJ report on disciplinary procedures applicable to judges in Russia is available here.
The ICJ remains concerned that the treatment of Bulgarian Judge Miroslava Todorova fails to accord with international standards on independence of the judiciary.
On 27 March 2014, the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) of Bulgaria reduced the disciplinary penalty imposed on her from dismissal, to demotion for a period of two years.
In imposing the new disciplinary sanction, the SJC said it was faulting her for delays in delivering judgment in several cases. The alleged faults occured some nine years ago.
The SJC sanctioned Judge Todorova to demotion for a period of two years. Whereas she had previously served on the Sofia City Court, during this two-year period she is permitted to work only in the lower level Sofia District Court. According to Bulgarian law, demotion is the second-most serious disciplinary sanction for a judge, one step less serious than dismissal.
Originally, in July 2012, the SJC decided to dismiss Judge Todorova from judicial service. Its decision was however quashed by the Supreme Administrative Council on 16 July 2013, on the basis that dismissal was disproportionate.
A new report launched today by the ICJ pinpoints key deficiencies in the Venezuelan legal system, which threaten the rule of law, democracy and human rights in the country.
The report Strengthening the Rule of Law in Venezuela documents failures by the authorities, as well as interference, intimidation, arbitrary suspensions and other pressures, that have undermined the independence and impartiality of the country’s judges and prosecutors, and the ability of lawyers to be effective and independent in upholding people’s rights.
The study calls for reform to the legal institutions and practices in the country, with the prime objective to restore their independence.
The ICJ today called on the Tunisian authorities to build on the advances made in the January 2014 Constitution by introducing legal and policy reforms to ensure the Tunisian judiciary is fully independent and accountable and is able to uphold human rights and the rule of law.
These reforms should be a priority of the new Parliament and should be carried out in consultation with the judiciary and civil society. The Constitution provides that a new Parliament is to be elected before the end of 2014.
The statement comes as the ICJ concluded a high-level mission to Tunisia to launch its report: “The independence and accountability of the Tunisian judicial system: learning from the past to build a better future.”
In this report, the ICJ examines the past and present Constitution, laws, institutions and practices governing the independence of the judiciary in Tunisia and analyses them in light of international and regional standards.
Despite the foundation laid down by the 2014 Constitution for significant reforms, much more needs to be done.