26th Conference of European Ministers of Justice, 7-8 April 2005, Helsinki (Finland)
(To be checked against delivered speech)
Mrs President of the Republic of Finland, Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,
You have a number of important and topical issues on the agenda of this 26th Conference of European Ministers of Justice. I would like to make a few comments on them from the viewpoint of the Committee of Ministers, which I represent.
The importance of issues relating to the social aspects of justice must not be underestimated. This conference has chosen to deal in particular with two aspects: seeking legal solutions to debt problems in a credit society and the social mission of the criminal justice system.
I have studied the written report presented by the Minister of Justice of Finland with great interest. As regards the possibilities for legal solutions to debt problems and possible future cooperation in the Council of Europe in this field, the report poses a number of questions, some of which I hope that this Conference will reply to. I will transmit any conclusions this Conference may reach on this issue to the Committee of Ministers, in order that it may consider any possible proposals for future action by the Council of Europe in this field.
The criminal justice system has, by its very nature, a fundamental social role to play in a democratic society governed by the rule of law. Criminal legislation is an essential part of the social contract between the State and its citizens. In a democracy it reflects, or should reflect, a shared consensus about behaviour and acts that are inadmissible in a given society. It also indicates the range of possible sanctions and/or measures that can be imposed and the procedures to be respected in case of breach, or risk of breach of this contract.
By assuming this responsibility the criminal justice system provides the individual with the security and safety needed to enjoy his or her fundamental rights and freedoms and it ensures social peace in society.
The Committee of Ministers is at this moment actively preparing the Third Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Council of Europe to be held in Warsaw next month. The strengthened security of European citizens will be on the agenda of the Summit.
Over the years a number of important instruments intended to assist the criminal justice systems of the member states in fulfilling one of their fundamental objectives, namely contributing to a peaceful and safe society, including by restoring balance and social peace after a crime has been committed, have been elaborated within the Council of Europe.
These instruments deal with issues such as crime prevention, ways of dealing with offenders, including treatment of prisoners and reintegration of offenders, with victims, with juveniles and other vulnerable categories of offenders or victims, mediation in penal matters and ways to improve the functioning of the criminal justice systems.
The Committee of Ministers has always considered it important to emphasise the need for restorative justice measures. It has recently adopted terms of reference for the Steering Committee for Crime Problems (CDPC), to address the needs of victims through an updated recommendation. Moreover, it is following closely the progress made by the same Committee on up-dating the European Prison Rules.
The social mission of the criminal justice system lies at the heart of the Council of Europe activities.
In this context, I would like to mention an important multi-disciplinary project on violence against children that has recently been approved by the Committee of Ministers. It is a follow-up to the Integrated Project on violence in every day life that came to an end last year and will address social, legal and educational dimensions of the various forms of violence against children.
Now a few words on a subject that has been occupying both time and effort within the Committee of Ministers and elsewhere in the Council of Europe since your last Conference, ie the fight against terrorism and the follow up to Resolution No. 1 adopted in Sofia.
As has already been stressed by the Deputy Secretary General, Mrs de Boer-Buquicchio, and as can be seen from the Secretary General’s report on the follow-up to the Sofia Resolution, considerable progress has been made in this field.
I would like to highlight the Committee of Ministers’ continuous efforts to encourage the early signature and ratification of the Amending Protocol to the 1977 European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism.
Furthermore, at their 114th ministerial session held on 13-14 May 2004, the Ministers expressed their determination to use all means available within the Council of Europe cooperative framework to combat terrorism as effectively as possible. While doing so they took note of the work performed by the Committee of Experts on Terrorism (CODEXTER) following their previous decision to ask that “the added value of a comprehensive European Convention against terrorism, which could be elaborated within the Council of Europe, with a view to contributing significantly to the United Nations efforts in this field” be considered. Finally, they agreed to give instructions for the elaboration of one or more instruments (which could be legally binding or not) with specific scope dealing with existing lacunae in international law or action on the fight against terrorism, such as those identified by the CODEXTER in its report.
I would like to underline that these innovative and important instruments have been elaborated in a very short time, while taking due account of opinions of both the Parliamentary Assembly and the Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe.
In this context, I must underline that in the fight against terrorism we must not loose sight of the reasons why we are fighting it. The Guidelines of the Committee of Ministers on human rights and the fight against terrorism, adopted on 11 July 2002, state that it is not only possible, but also absolutely necessary, to fight terrorism while respecting human rights, the rule of law and, where applicable, international humanitarian law. I would like to stress that the Committee of Ministers has shown the importance it attaches to this by recently completing the Guidelines with additional Guidelines on the Protection of Victims of Terrorist Acts.
Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,
As you have noted, the Committee of Ministers has not hesitated to act upon the Resolution of your previous Conference, you, Ministers of Justice, have always been at the forefront of the political debate by dealing with difficult issues such as those on your agenda today. I would like to underline the great importance the Committee of Ministers attaches to your conclusions and the valuable impetus they give to the work and activities of the Council of Europe in the legal field. Your proposals will be particularly interesting in the light of the Third Summit, which will guide the Council of Europe on the way ahead in a continually changing Europe.