The Project “Supporting implementation of the judicial reform in Belarus” was implemented by the Council of Europe from 1 September 2017 to 31 December 2018.

The project was aimed at providing assistance to the national authorities in improving mediation and the judicial system in order to provide a better forum for the resolution of civil disputes. It was also aimed at contributing to the Council of Europe’s (CoE) efforts to maintain political dialogue with the authorities of Belarus, to ensure a stronger involvement of Belarus in the common European legal space and lead eventually to a rapprochement and accession of Belarus to the CoE on the basis of the Organisation’s values and principles, as envisaged by Action Plan for Belarus and PACE and CM documents on Belarus.

The project provided recommendations concerning the possible ways to improve mediation in Belarus, contributed to a better understanding by the authorities of the requirements of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and to the familiarization of judges, including court presidents, with CoE standards and good practices which will enable them to carry out their functions more efficiently.

Trust and a good working relationship were established between the CoE team and the national authorities, which lay basis for more efficient co-operation in the future, namely within the framework of the new project concerning judiciary and mediation in Belarus which is a part of the PGG II action starting on 1 January 2019 and ending on 31 December 2020.

Activities aimed at building capacity of the judiciary

In co-operation with the Supreme Court, the project organised a seminar on European standards concerning the length of proceedings in non-criminal cases on 14 September 2018 in Minsk for a group of 50 civil court judges.

A study visit to Strasbourg was organised by the project team in November 2018 for a group of ten Belarusian court presidents, which included presidents of town, district and appeal courts. The presidents were familiarised with the work of CoE bodies related to the judiciary and CoE standards relating to the work of court presidents, in particular, CCJE Opinion No. 19.

Further, an international expert prepared a study on use of the notion of “criminal misdeameanour” in different jurisdictions and its compliance with Article 6 of ECHR, including reasonable length requirements. The study was presented on 4 December 2018 in Minsk at a round table organised jointly by the CoE and the Supreme Court. The round table was attended by representatives of the Supreme Court, the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Investigative Committee. The participants highly appreciated the information contained in the study and agreed to take it into consideration when deciding whether the notion of “criminal misdeameanour” should be introduced into the legislation of Belarus.

On 19 December 2018, a conference was organised in Minsk on Article 6 requirements, with a special emphasis on reasonable length requirements. The conference was jointly organized by the project and the Supreme Court and was attended by 50 Supreme Court judges. A very positive feedback was received from the Supreme Court and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Activities aimed at improving mediation in Belarus

On 27 July 2018 the project organised a meeting in Minsk between the working group and two international experts on mandatory mediation. Members of the working group found the information received during the visit and the meeting to be very useful and agreed to take it into account while preparing the mediation reform.

In September 2018, an international expert carried out a needs assessment mission to Minsk. The expert provided a report describing the existing situation with mediation and proposed suggestions for further improvement. The expert’s report was presented and discussed at a round table in Minsk on 23 November 2018. The mediators and the Ministry of Justice highly appreciated the report and agreed to take the consultant’s proposals into consideration while developing the concept of a future reform aimed at improving mediation in Belarus.

Following the expert’s recommendations, in November 2018 the project organised a study visit to Italy for a working group preparing the new draft legislation on mediation, including elements of mandatory mediation. Italy was chosen for the study visit because it has the most advanced mandatory mediation system in Europe.