Council of Europe Conferences of Ministers of Justice

24th Conference of European Ministers of Justice

4-5 October 2001, Moscow (Russian Federation)


Report by the Secretary General of the Council of Europe


1. The 24th Conference of European Ministers of Justice was held in Moscow on 4 and 5 October 2001 at the invitation of the Russian Government. The agenda, list of participants and Resolutions adopted are set out in Appendices I-III to this report.

2. The Bureaux of the European Committee on Legal Co-operation (CDCJ) and the European Committee on Crime Problems (CDPC), as well as the Senior Officials, held their preparatory meetings on the eve of the Conference.

3. The Minister of Justice of the Russian Federation was elected Chair of the Conference. The Ministers of Justice of Moldova and the Czech Republic were elected Vice-Chairs.

4. The themes of the Conference were:

- “Fight against International Terrorism”

- “Implementation of judicial decisions in conformity with European standards”:

Implementation of long-term prison sentences
General approach and means of achieving effective enforcement of civil judicial decisions – strengthening or reducing the role of the state.

The first theme was added to the agenda of the Conference, on a proposal by the Minister of Justice of Germany, supported by the Ministers of Justice of Slovenia, Turkey and the Russian Federation.

5. The main report on the second theme was submitted by the Minister of Justice of the Russian Federation and a number of Ministers submitted a memorandum. The list of documents appears in Appendix IV.

6. A welcome address by the President of the Russian Federation, Mr Vladimir Putin, was read out by his representative.

Later during the Conference, President Putin received the Ministers and Heads of Delegation in the Kremlin. The President stressed the need for European co-operation in the fight against terrorism, and praised the Council of Europe for its assistance to Russia in the process of legal and judicial reforms.

7. In his opening speech, the Deputy Secretary General referred to the Declaration of the Committee of Ministers of 12 September 2001 on the fight against international terrorism, and the decisions of 21 September. These decisions are but a first step, and the input of the Ministers of Justice in much awaited in order to finalise the plan of future actions of the Council of Europe.

The Deputy Secretary General commended the achievements of the Russian Federation in the process of legal and judicial reforms, and pointed to the areas in which work remained to be done, stressing the readiness of the Council of Europe to assist in any possible way.

Finally, the Deputy Secretary General recalled that the execution of judicial decisions is part and parcel of the problems related to efficiency and fairness of justice: this Conference is the natural follow-up to the most recent Conferences of European Ministers of Justice.

8. On the occasion of the Conference, the Additional Protocol (ETS 179) to the 1977 European Agreement on the Transmission of Applications for Legal Aid (ETS 092) and the Convention on Information and Legal Cooperation concerning "Information Society Services" (ETS 180) were opened for signature; details are provided in Appendix V to this report.

9. The Ministers expressed their gratitude to the Russian authorities for hosting the Conference, and for their cordial hospitality.

Main report by the Minister of Justice of the Russian Federation

The effective enforcement of court decisions constitutes an important step towards the effective protection of all rights and freedoms set forth in national legislation and relevant international treaties. Deficiencies in the organisation of enforcement proceedings are likely to undermine the confidence of citizens in the judicial system.

There is a growing awareness that management of long-term prisoners should aim at implementing the objectives of punishment, and at striking a balance between several factors such as preventing escapes, ensuring good order and discipline in penal institutions, and providing active regimes and opportunities for these prisoners. It would be useful to identify European standards regarding conditions of custody and safety for administration staff and prisoners, sentence planning and allocation of the prisoners as well as sentence commutation. Penal institution’s staff conduct must be respectful of the European Prison Rules and other regulations as safety of prisoners and administration staff depends considerably on the knowledge, skills and training of security services’ officers. Educational work as well as psychological and educational follow-up throughout the full term of imprisonment is important to help achieve the resocialisation of long-term prisoners. The involvement of the private sector in the penal system is to be thoroughly examined in the light of these objectives.

With respect to imprisonment of foreigners and stateless persons, measures should be taken to make the Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons (ETS 112, 1983) and its Protocol (ETS 167, 1997) universally accepted. Conditional release for these prisoners calls for a study of the mechanisms of the 1964 European Convention on the Supervision of Conditionally Sentenced or Conditionally Released Offenders (ETS 051, 1964).

The possibility of unifying the substantive and procedural laws relating to enforcement of court decisions on European level is of great concern. Recognition and execution of foreign court judgments in civil cases require particular co-operation of the States, which could be provided for through the development of a European Code of Enforcement Procedure. An inter-state European Agency for Search of Debtors and Their Assets could be established. Topical problems such as the qualifications, powers and conduct of bailiffs (including private bailiffs), and the extent and forms of States’ participation in the implementation of court decisions in civil cases should also be addressed in order to achieve the effective enforcement of civil judicial decisions.

Summary of the discussions

Fight against international terrorism

The Ministers were unanimous in condemning the terrorist acts in the United States on the 11 September and deploring the loss of life and the injuries suffered by thousands of people. They pledged their full support to the efforts by the Council of Europe to combat international terrorism in all its forms and wherever it is committed, in the light of the Decision taken by the Committee of Ministers and the Recommendation adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly.

They welcomed the draft Resolution presented by the Federal Minister of Justice of Germany which faithfully reflected the determination of participants to contribute to the increased efforts of the international community to fight this threat to the democratic systems of member States.

They took note with interest of two initiatives taken within the European Union on the basis of proposals made by the Commission: to agree on a common definition of “acts of terrorism” and to introduce a European arrest warrant which would replace extradition among the member States of the European Union.

It was generally agreed that democratic states should respond to terrorism in a way compatible with the values to which the Council of Europe is committed by virtue of its Statute, i.e. the Rule of Law and the protection of human rights, which required inter alia measures for an improved protection and support of the victims of terrorist acts.

Several speakers emphasised the need to deprive terrorist organisations of their financial support, in particular by ratifying the 1999 International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism and by adopting the measures necessary to give effect to Resolution 1373 recently adopted by the UN Security Council. In this context they called on states which had not already done so to ratify the Convention on Laundering, Search, Seizure and Confiscation of Crime Proceeds, and they invited the Committee of Ministers to reinforce the work of the Committee evaluating States’ anti-money laundering measures (PC-R-EV). Moreover, the new Convention on cyber-crime which is to be opened for signature on 23 November 2001 will contribute to States’ efforts to fight terrorism.

Among the other measures conducive to combating international terrorism, speakers proposed that States should:

- actively participate in the elaboration, within the United Nations, of the draft Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism;
- ratify, if they have not already done so, the international treaties which seek to facilitate international co-operation in criminal matters
- review Article 13 of the European Convention on the suppression of terrorism with a view to either withdrawing reservations made under this provision or to deleting the provision altogether;
- improve the exchange of information between States and law enforcement agencies;
- promote the establishment of the International Criminal Court by ratifying its Statute as soon as possible;
- review their domestic legislation relating to bank secrecy and extend it to other financial institutions.

Implementation of long-term sentences

The discussions focused on the need to provide decent detention conditions for those serving long-term and life sentences, without sacrificing security, order and discipline in penal institutions. The Ministers were concerned about the increasing number and length of long-term sentences, leading to prison overcrowding and impairing the humane and effective management of prisoners in conformity with international human rights standards. In the case of long-term sentences, it is necessary to strike a fair balance between the preventive function of punishment and the social resettlement of prisoners. Early release from prison may offer a solution, provided that legitimate security interests are not jeopardised.

The Ministers strongly supported the work done by the Committee on the management of life-sentenced and other long-term prisoners (PC-LT) and encouraged it to complete its work on guidelines for good practice in this field before the end of 2002. They also expressed their support for the cooperation programmes to promote the reform of prison systems.

General approach and means of achieving effective enforcement of judicial decisions

The Ministers discussed the question of implementing judicial decisions in line with European standards, and the general approach and means of achieving their effective enforcement, not only in criminal but also in civil, commercial, administrative and social matters.

During the discussion, the following points were made:

The enforcement of court decisions within a reasonable time was an integral part of the right to a fair trial guaranteed by Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The organisation of execution procedures differs widely among the member States of the Council of Europe. These differences reflect legal traditions and historical experiences in each country, which make it difficult to harmonise procedures at European level. From a practical point of view, such harmonisation would be neither necessary nor appropriate. It would, however, be very useful to identify common standards and principles that may help States to improve their legislation and practices as the full respect of judicial decisions forms part of the Rule of Law.

On the level of the European Union, mutual recognition and enforcement of judicial decisions in both civil and criminal matters constitutes a cornerstone of the creation of a space of freedom, safety and justice. Some instruments developed within the European Union could possibly be extended to the wider circle of Council of Europe member States.

Some Ministers stressed that the execution of court sentences should remain a State prerogative, while others were prepared to envisage a limited role for private actors.

The creation of a European Agency for the Search of Debtors and Their Assets could raise difficult problems of data protection. Better use should instead be made of existing instruments and co-operation between national agencies.

Training and codes of conduct for bailiffs are important to ensure that they carry out their important tasks fairly, impartially, efficiently and transparently.

Information technologies play an important role in enforcement procedures and full use should be made of such technologies.

Efficient enforcement procedures are necessary in order to provide business interests with confidence when making investments.

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24. The Deputy Secretary General wishes to pay tribute to the Russian authorities and thank them both for the excellent organisation of the Conference and the warm welcome extended to participants.