Check against delivery
Ladies and gentlemen,
As always, it is a great pleasure to address this annual Conference.
This year, the theme goes straight to the heart of your mission.
Because good judgments are the ultimate aim of any democratic justice system –
Good judgments require the expertise that comes with good training –
And good training is what the HELP network provides – now, more than ever.
In fact, the number of people and organisations accessing HELP courses through the HELP online platform has increased by 400% over the past three years –
From under 7,000 participants then to almost 25,000 now –
Supporting the work of legal professionals and others from across the 47 member states of our common legal space.
Demand is being fuelled by the HELP Programme’s ever-growing reputation for quality learning:
This is the only network that contributes across all 47 of our member states to the up-skilling of legal professionals and others – and to the enforcement of human rights.
It does this by cultivating knowledge and skills at the domestic level –
So that the European Convention on Human Rights and our other conventions can flourish and blossom for the benefit of all.
But this welcome increase in demand is also due to the HELP Programme’s capacity to adapt to new challenges and expand the range of its courses.
Just consider some the topics that will be presented at this Conference:
The rights of refugee and migrant children;
Combatting trafficking in human beings;
Human rights in sports.
This is of course a reflection of the Council of Europe’s work.
Our Organisation and our Convention system are unique in terms of both their breadth and scope.
We develop the instruments required not only to take on the persistent challenges affecting our continent – international co-operation in criminal matters, the need for child-friendly justice, the scourge of violence against women, and so on.
But also the emerging and immediate issues that require our attention.
Asylum, bioethics, data protection, medicrime, and the prevention of radicalisation, for example.
These are complex and challenging areas.
And it is through the courses and seminars run by the HELP network – often using novel, online techniques – that awareness is raised and expertise is built among those required to put these laws into practice across our common legal space.
We need that now more than ever.
As our Secretary General made clear in his latest annual report on the State of Democracy, Human Rights and the Rule of Law, we live in a time where resurgent populism, extreme nationalism and xenophobia manifest as attacks on our core values: human rights, democracy and the rule of law – and the institutions that underpin it.
The first chapter of that report deals with the need for efficient, impartial and independent judiciaries.
In this, he makes clear that:
“Well-trained judges, with a high level of professional competence, are more likely to withstand improper attempts at influencing their decision-making, as well as to ensure more generally that justice is delivered in a fair and independent trial”.
Drawing on the unparalleled experience and expertise embodied in the HELP Programme, that is exactly what our Organisation is seeking to build.
And by no means alone.
Certainly, the European Court of Human Rights has made an invaluable contribution to the development and promotion of HELP courses.
It is the anchor for the emerging and strengthening synergies within the Superior Courts Network.
And I have no doubt that you will gain more insights into these issues from our learned friend, Vice-President of the Court, Judge Linos-Alexandre Sicilianos, when he delivers his keynote address later this morning.
But it is also a sign of both the ambition and the confidence of the HELP Programme that it has done so much good work in co-operation with others too.
Bar associations, judiciary schools and, increasingly, universities not only contribute as ambassadors in their own countries, but act also as amplifiers for the legal standards that our Organisation sets.
And we are also proud of the work done with our key partners and allies:
The European Judicial Training Network, the Council of Bar and Law Societies in Europe and, of course, the European Union.
To them we are grateful for the backing that allows us to expand our outreach, especially the political and financial support provided by the EU.
These are the rail tracks on which our message and expertise are carried –
And the territory covered is ever-expanding.
HELP’s international profile, for example, is on the up.
For this, we need look no further than the recent presentation of its landmark course on “Human Rights in Sport” at the St Petersburg International Legal Forum.
Or its equally important course on Child-friendly Justice at UNESCO.
Just as countries outside the Council of Europe are choosing to participate in many of our conventions, similarly they wish to benefit from the learning on offer from HELP.
But this requires resources – and it is no secret that we operate under greater pressure than before.
So my call here today is for every member state to consider what more it can do both to benefit from HELP’s expertise, and to support HELP in sharing it with others.
First, consider how to make better use of the extraordinary range of courses, seminars and information that HELP offers.
Second, take the opportunity to adapt that learning to national contexts and circumstances.
And third, look for ways to engage universities and other bodies yet further – within your member state, and beyond – so that material is shared as widely as possible with those who can benefit, at home, throughout Europe, and beyond – opening up a culture of rights to those countries that value it.
I know that the President of the Parliamentary Assembly, Michele Nicoletti, will share with us today some ideas about this issue, building on his experience as a politician and an academic.
But to enable this, all of this, requires investment.
The investment of time, money and will.
So I urge everyone here today: redouble your efforts; lobby your authorities and institutions; unlock the resources that we need to send HELP where it’s needed.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We live in a time when cross-border threats, technological innovation and social change show no respect for national boundaries.
This is a critical moment for human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe.
But the solutions are within our reach.
Grasping them requires good training, good judgments – and a strong helping hand.
I wish you all a successful Conference.