Annual HELP Network Conference

Strasbourg, 16 - 17 June 2016

This year, the annual HELP Network Conference, which took place on 16-17 June, was entitled “HELP, leading the way to case-law harmonisation”. After an inspiring speech from the Secretary General, Thorbjørn Jagland, reminding our members of the growing importance of this “unique pan-European Network”, Mr Jagland mentioned the importance of HELP in the efforts of the Council of Europe to “sow the Convention into [member states’] national fabric” in an effort to “nationalise the Convention”. Mr Jagland, along with the other Plenary speakers reinforced the value of HELP in the 28 in EU countries.

Ambassador Katrin Kivi, Permanent Representative of Estonia to the Council of Europe, Chair of the Ministers’ Deputies, recalled the importance for legal professionals to “have access to high-quality and up to date training on recent developments in Strasbourg case-law.” HELP also provides an opportunity to react promptly to societal challenges legal professionals are faced with, and helps create a link with other international organisations.

In her keynote speech, Mrs Tatiana Termacic, Head of the Human Rights National Implementation Division, highlighted the importance of harmonisation of national case law in the Council of Europe member states. She reminded the audience that HELP’s objective is not to substitute the national training institutions but to provide them with the necessary tools to allow them to fully achieve their mission. “Bringing coherence in the judicial practice at national level […] is crucial to ensure the greatest protection of human rights in our member states. […] That is why HELP seeks to contribute to harmonisation of judicial practice, […] by offering a harmonised training methodology [… and by harmonising] the content of the training itself.”

The Convention is “our shared responsibility” (Brussels’ Declaration, 2015), and contributes to the stability and liberty on the continent. In a situation Europe currently faces, the importance of case-law harmonisation is particularly important, and HELP can lead the way by offering tailor-made à la carte training to legal professionals all over.

Another keynote speech was delivered by Françoise Tulkens, Judge and Vice-President of the European Court of Human Rights (1998-2012), who gave a dynamic and interesting insight on the role of legal professionals in defending human rights and preserving the human rights protection system in a crisis context and emphasised the need for all legal professionals to share the role of human rights enforcement.

For the first time, the conference was broadcast live online, and was followed by some 150 people online, in addition to the 250 participants coming from 41 member states attending the Conference in Strasbourg. The recording of the conference can be seen and videos of speeches will be made available here.

HELP 2015-2016 achievements

HELP achievements

Mrs Natacha De Roeck, Head of the HELP Unit, presented the key achievements of HELP since the 2015 Network Conference. The four key aims for 2015/2016 have been; initial and continuous training; Focal and Info points updating the website; harmonisation of methodology; and online resources developed and upgraded. Regarding the harmonisation of methodology the main outcome is the newly published Guidebook. With respect to online resources, 11 new courses have been developed and existing courses have been further translated and adapted to the national legal order, with the support of both the Consultative and Editorial Boards. A priority has been the accessibility and appeal of materials, with new courses developed using interactive technologies and 10 interactive courses available in Self-Learning, accessible for all users on the HELP platform. The website and national pages were redesigned and launched in March 2016. 255 national trainers are now HELP certified. One clear success has been the increased partnership with the Network, highlighted by the high level of interest and attendance from partners, and a rise in the number of Focal and Info Points appointed.

HELP in Russia

The “HELP in Russia” Project has already interacted with more than 500 legal professionals, with 4 HELP courses adapted to the national legal order and 5 courses launched in 2016. The Project has developed new curricula for training of HELP trainers and benefits from existing HELP resources and methodology.

HELP Guidebook

An additional important achievement for this year is the finalisation of the HELP Guidebook on Human Rights training methodology for Legal Professionals. The guidebook was drafted as a response to the need for better harmonisation in the implementation of the Convention through relevant and effective training at the national level. It was distributed to all participants in the conference in its printed paper version, which includes a USB stick on which templates necessary to course development or event organisation were provided. In an effort to increase visibility, the HELP Guidebook is now available online on the website, as well as on the HELP e-learning platform under “Training methodology”, where an interactive version of it is also available.

Considering the growing importance of the HELP Network and a wide use of HELP resources, the need to clarify the HELP methodology was pressing. This guidebook offers visibility and clear answers to those who still have questions on HELP, how to implement it, and how to use its resources. This Guidebook addresses how, at various stages, training on human rights can effectively contribute to a better application of the ECHR at national level. It is a tool that can be used by national training institutions, trainers at the national level, but also generally any legal professionals who have an interest in acquiring knowledge on human rights and human rights training.

The guidebook was already translated for use in Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Russia and Turkey and will be further translated where necessary.

It is a practical tool which includes clear step-by-step instructions for various types of activities. This guidebook is intended to be used as a working tool for its users, who we hope will help bring it to life.

HELP in the 28 

“HELP in the 28” supported EU legal professionals (*) to apply the EU Charter, the ECHR and the European Social Charter in their daily work. It also reinforces the HELP Network of NTIs and BA in the EU. Under this programme, four new courses are developed, based on EU priorities: Data protection and privacy rights; Fight against racism, xenophobia and homophobia; Labour rights; and Right to the integrity of the person (bioethics). The courses are then adjusted to the national legal systems and languages before being piloted in 13 EU member states. Both Fight against racism, xenophobia and homophobia and Right to the integrity of the person (bioethics) are now available on the HELP Self-Learning platform.

 

HELP in the Western Balkans and Turkey (WBT)

The implementation of the “HELP in the Western Balkans and Turkey” project, funded by the Human Rights Trust Fund, has started in April 2016. In line with the main objective of the HELP Programme, the regional project is aimed at supporting the training capacities of national training institutions and Bar associations and enhancing the individual capacities of legal professionals in the implementation of the ECHR. The target countries where the project is being implemented are Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, “The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” and Turkey. Western Balkans countries and Turkey share a lot not only common legal history and culture but also approaches to human rights education.

Furthermore, some of the target countries are facing similar difficulties and challenges in the EU accession process. The focus of this regional HELP will be on the adaptation of existing course more than on the development of new topics. There will be one new course developed on Child-friendly justice as a joint initiative with the CoE Children’s Rights Division given the high interest on the region.

WG conclusions

Three working groups discussed various issues. A first group discussed “Human Rights Education for Legal Professions: Methodological approach and Impact Assessment Tools”. There is a growing added value in using HELP resources in complementarity with other training materials from national training institutions and the ECtHR documents. The challenge remains in the impact assessment of human rights training, which needs to be further analysed.

The Working Group discussions were stimulated by the keynote speeches of Mr Artashes Khurshudyan, Head of Distance-Learning Department at the Justice Academy of Armenia, Ms Astrid Hopma, Senior Consultant in Digital Learning at the Training and Study Centre of the Judiciary of the Netherlands, and Mr Leif Berg, Head of Case Law Information and Publications Division, Registry of the European Court of Human Rights. Both Mr Artashes Khurshudyan and Ms Astrid Hopma were members of the Working Group on Training Methodology, which produced the HELP Methodology Guidebook.

HELP members (BAs and NTIs) mostly benefit from HELP through its network and possibility to share good practice in carrying out training activities for different groups of legal professionals in different countries as well as using HELP as the main e-learning platform through conduct of HELP distance learning courses with application of developed training methodology. The members of the WGI expressed full support for applying interactive tools of teaching, e.g. informative and engaging videos and practical exercises such as Moot Court developing the practical skills of participants and focusing more on the “learning by doing” rather than “learning through teaching”; the blended model of course allows better to apply interactive learning methods, requiring certain face-to-face training.

 

There is a rising need for HELP developed learning materials to be available in national languages and partnership between HELP and its members as well as outside partners (local and international NGOs, universities) could be useful in securing the translation of developed materials. Several methods are used in assessing the individual performance of legal professionals after the training through e.g. application of tests, and evaluation surveys conducted at the end of trainings. However, the assessment of overall impact of the training remains a challenge and in the future could be developed a model methodology for assessing the impact of the training. Cooperation with HELP partner organisations, such as EJTN, FRA could be useful in taking into consideration the work done in this area.

 

One key suggestion was that the Council of Europe “seal” for local training based on the materials developed by HELP in line with its methodology in general could facilitate the interest in the course; however the need and importance may vary according to the country and the group of participants (e.g. there is noticed higher interest for lawyers).

 

A second group discussed “Human Rights Education for Legal Professionals: a Contribution to National Case Law Harmonisation”. It came out of the discussions that it is crucial to identify the main issues leading to inconsistencies in judicial practice and conflicting case law. The role of national training institutions and bar associations is to ensure that identified issues are reflected as priorities in the relevant continuous education programmes at national level. The working group was addressed by Ms Anna Austin, Deputy Jurisconsult of the Registry of the European Court of Human Rights, Mr Luca Perilli, Member of the Board of the Scuola della Magistratura and HELP Focal Point Italy in the first session and Mr Szymon Janczarek, HELP Focal Point Poland and Member of the Secretariat of the Execution of Judgments Department on the second.

As main obstacles to case law harmonisation, the lack of knowledge of the ECtHR case law, and the difficult access to it were mentioned, but also the national legislation or interpretation which could contradict it, or the existence of multiple systems of human rights protection (international instruments, EU Charter, ECHR, Constitution) with possible overlaps/divergences.

A key step that was highlighted during the discussion was the identification of the inconsistencies at national level and their origin. It is recommended to have, at national level, a formal or informal mechanism in place to ensure this identification as early as possible. In this process, not only judges, but also lawyers have a key role to play, through the questions they bring in courts – they can highlight discrepancies and problematic issues in light of the ECtHR case law.

Several tools were proposed, based on different existing practices: one is certainly to create space for dialogue between judges – between European judges and national judges, between Supreme Courts, between judges from different instances. This can be done through different formal or informal mechanisms but also indirectly through reasoning of decisions. What is important to highlight is that this dialogue should enhance sharing of information and knowledge, and the outcome, even if it takes the form of opinion or recommendations, cannot be binding – to preserve the judge’s independence.  When discussing the role of lawyers, it was agreed that this group of professionals also had a role to play in national and international dialogue.

Considering practical steps to improve harmonisations some suggestions were:

  • to facilitate the access to information on the ECtHR case law or national judicial practice and their evolution. This includes translations of judgments or legal summaries, sharing of documents/ explanatory notes, including between the ECtHR and Supreme Courts, publication of judgments, creation of database, etc. Specialised unit or reference person in courts can facilitate/ensure this access and dissemination of information.
  • the exchange of best practices between members states, as sometimes comparative reasoning can help find solution.
  • : regular training on the ECHR should be ensured as early as possible, to create a culture of ECHR.

HELP already offers support in the areas identified by providing a common methodology (detailed in the newly presented guidebook); common courses such as the new one the reasoning of judgments which contributes to clarity and case law harmonisation, as one example; development and training in new technologies and, crucially, as network, facilitating the exchange of good practices through meetings, joint training, and enable discussion on supranational issues related to human rights.

 

A third group discussed the “Implementation of the Brighton and Brussels Declarations: Training as a shared Responsibility”.

The Brighton and Brussels Declarations both deal with human rights education, and ensue Recommendation (2004)4 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on the European Convention on Human Rights in university education and professional training. The aim of the Recommendation was to ensure sufficient awareness of human rights issues and a high level of understanding of the ECHR through relevant training, with the goal of achieving an effective implementation at national level of the rights and freedoms of the Convention as well as improving the efficiency of the Court, especially through reducing the burden of inadmissible applications. It thereby dealt with university education, professional training, and other training activities.

The aim of this working group was to exchange on and identify best practices in professional human rights education based on the above-mentioned CoE instruments, and identify the challenges that might need to be tackled to fully implement them. Indeed, tackling those challenges would allow to better work towards harmonisation of the Convention in national case law.

It was therefore appropriate to raise questions such as the role HELP can have in university education, the ways in which national training institutions and bar associations cooperate with universities, the benefits such cooperation could have, and the question of whether HELP could open its resources for use by non-governmental organisations.

More specifically, the question of whether the recommendation had been implemented successfully at the national level was raised, and the implication of ELP and how it better contribute to the implementation of CoE instruments in that field was debated.

It was highlighted that although in most CoE member states, the recommendation of including human rights training as a core element of university legal education  was thought to be achieved, it was clear that it was not the case everywhere, and that improvements could be brought in that sense, particularly by increasing the visibility of HELP and its resources. Indeed, one of the advantages of HELP is that it has courses that can be used already at university level, such as the course on introduction to the ECHR, which would offer the same level of basic knowledge on the Convention to all law students. This can easily be achieved seeing that this course is available online, free of charge, by creating an account on the HELP platform. It was therefore discussed that with the appropriate visibility, HELP could reach out to universities and an introductory course on the ECHR could be included in the core programme of law degrees across Europe.

Ensuring a harmonised level of training already at university level was also thought important due to the fact that it might reduce the need for human rights training at the professional level later on.

The WG benefitted from the contributions of two keynote speakers, Mr Mikhail Lobov, head of Human Rights Policy and Co-operation Department, and Professor Jim Murdoch, solicitor and professor at the University of Glasgow. Professor Jim Murdoch was also the co-ordinator of the Working Group on Training Methodology, which produced the HELP Methodology Guidebook.

All participants to the working group seemed to agree that university education in the field of human rights need to be reinforced, mainly as far as practical training is concerned. It was admitted that even in countries were knowledge is transmitted, students are unaware of how to apply that knowledge to concrete situations. More practical training would make students more aware, and give them the appropriate reflex, to think of and apply the Convention. Also, better harmonised university training would help training institutions that wouldn’t have to start back from the beginning on human rights training. It is thought that some HELP courses could be used at undergraduate level, such as the course on introduction to ECHR or the new version of the course on admissibility criteria in applications submitted to the ECtHR. The course on antidiscrimination issues would also be one that could be made available at university level.

Currently, there is a lack of co-operation and communication between national training institutions and universities, and a first step would be to overcome that by making HELP more visible to universities.

HELP Focal and Info points are a valuable asset and could contribute to that increased co-operation. In fact, in some cases it is already the case, some Focal and Info Points already promote HELP to universities and NGOs, presenting the platform and resources at joint events or human rights fora.

The working group concluded that increased visibility of HELP beyond national training institutions and towards universities and NGOs would allow for an improved and wider implementation of Rec(2004)4 and the Brussels and Brighton Declarations.

Consultative Board elections

Finally, new members of the HELP consultative board were elected. The board is now composed of the following six members: Petros Alikakos, NTI Greece, Sandra Budimir, BA Croatia, Jasmina Krstenic, NTI Serbia, Simon O’Toole, BA UK, Dagmara Rajska, BA Poland, and Musa Toprak, BA Turkey. You can see their profiles and the board’s terms of reference on the website.

This year, the Terms of Reference of the CB were modified to better adapt to the needs of HELP. The full ToR can be found on the website on the relevant page. The modifications include updates on budget and working methods, as well as the introduction of a rotating election, allowing for continuity of the Consultative Board, by ensuring that half the members of the current CB can be up for re-election every time there is an election, while three members will stand down after having served a maximum of two terms.

 Conclusion of the Conference

In the closing plenary session Mrs Tatiana Termacic moderated and welcomed the presentations of the three Working Group Rapporteurs. The final speech was delivered by Mr Christos Giakoumopoulos, Director of Human Rights, during which he thanked the participants for their active participation, confirming the feeling that the HELP Network is getting stronger and stronger.  Mr Giakoumopoulos emphasised that in a time of crises, HELP should be seen as tool allowing for more rapid reaction mechanisms (example in the context of the migration crisis, fight against radicalisation, etc.) and given the work of the Programme, we should also praise HELP for establishing so many links between the standard-setting, monitoring and cooperation entities of the CoE and encourage it even further to ensure that there is a feeding back mechanism between the 3 pillars.

The 2016 HELP Network Conference brought together a higher than ever number of members and their participation produced a successful reflection on the current work and future plans for HELP. The HELP Secretariat extend their gratitude to all who contributed!

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