Dear reader,

The Consultative Council of European Judges (CCJE) is a special body, being the first of its kind within an international organisation to be composed exclusively of judges as professional individuals who are not accountable to their governments. It was to strengthen the role of judges in Europe that the Committee of Ministers set up the CCJE in 2000. Today, the work of the CCJE is more relevant than ever.

The role of the CCJE lies at the heart of the Council of Europe and its interdependent core values; human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The independence of the judiciary is paramount for the rule of law, in the protection of human rights and for a well functioning democracy. As the CCJE has pointed out; the judiciary must be independent to fulfil its constitutional role in relation to the other powers of the state, society in general and the parties to any particular dispute. So, what is the situation?

The Secretary General of the Council of Europe has in his report from May 2015 on the state of democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Europe, pointed out some major concerns regarding the status of the judiciaries. There are widespread weaknesses in over a third of member states, and the public trust in the system is weak. Among the most concerning shortcomings are lack of independence of Councils for the Judiciary, varying degrees of executive pressure on the judiciary and the fact that judges are not recruited, nominated and promoted in a transparent way.

The CCJE has addressed all these issues and concerns one way or the other in various Opinions and by targeted cooperation with member states and judicial bodies. The Secretary General describes "honest and decent courts" as "the bedrock of any healthy democracy". I agree to that, and I would like to add that the work of the CCJE is indeed intended to support the courts to fulfil their role in this respect. The CCJE Opinions are issued after careful deliberations among the experienced judges being members of the Council. If used properly, the Opinions will give guidance to member states on how to protect and respect the independence of the judiciary, and on the proper relation between the judiciary and the other powers of state.

The CCJE Situation Report of October 2015 on the judiciary and judges in the member states of the Council of Europe give support to the findings in the report of the Secretary General. There have been continuing concerns about the proper implementation of relevant standards of the Council of Europe in certain member states. The Bureau of the CCJE will prepare regular updates of the Situation Report, and invites members of the CCJE, relevant national authorities, judicial bodies etc. to submit further information of interest for an updated version of the report.

Remedying shortcomings with respect to judicial independence is a task that first and foremost must be solved at a national level. The CCJE will continue to offer assistance and support for such work, when requested. I am pleased to see that the Secretary General wants to expedite a pan-European action plan to bring all member states together and put independent judiciaries at the forefront of the work of the Council of Europe. The CCJE will continue to make contributions to this important work.

Nils Engstad
President of the CCJE


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