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Eastern Partnership JHA - Meeting of Ministers for Justice

Luxembourg , 

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Thank you Mr President,
Dear Ministers,
Vice-President Reding,
Excellencies,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me start by thanking the European Union and the Ministry of Justice of Lithuania for the opportunity to participate in this Ministerial Meeting, which is of particular significance, given the forthcoming Vilnius Summit in November.

I should also like to express my appreciation for the continued involvement of the Council of Europe in the Eastern Partnership.

Today, I would like to give you some insight into the co-operation on Enhancing Judicial Reform in the Eastern Partnership Countries. This co-operation is implemented by the Council of Europe and funded by the European Union. It aims at supporting judiciary reform in the Eastern Partnership countries, with a view to increasing the independence and efficiency of their judicial systems.

The project has made full use of our standards as regards the judiciary: the standards of the European Court of Human Rights, and also those of specialised bodies such as the Venice Commission, the Consultative Council of European Judges, the Consultative Council of European Prosecutors, and the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice, the CEPEJ. Through assistance, peer-review and exchange of best practices, the Project has contributed to a better design of justice policies and to the preparation of legislation on the judiciary in the Eastern Partnership countries.

While much of the time bilateral co-operation may be considered more suitable or give better results, the multilateral dimension of this specific project had clear advantages – there was a dialogue between equals, dealing with similar issues and faced with more or less the same obstacles in the reform process.

Let me illustrate with the example of Ukraine.

In Ukraine the Council of Europe has a significant Action Plan with a strong emphasis on judiciary reforms, totalling some 23 million Euros.

The Action Plan, launched two years ago, began with a dialogue with the authorities on the reform of the criminal procedures code, which entered into force last year. Throughout this year the Ukrainian authorities have been implementing the Code as well as the new law on the bar and we can already see the first results.

For instance, following the entry into force of alternative measures to detention, the number of persons in pre-trial detention has fallen by more than fifty per cent between 2012 and 2013.

Our next step, and common objective with the Ukrainian authorities, is reform of the prosecution.

Last August the draft law on the prosecutor's office was submitted, which is currently under consideration by the Venice Commission. The dialogue with the authorities on the reform of the prosecution, notably with the Presidential administration, is progressing very well.

We expect to have the final opinion of the law this week in fact, on 11-12 October, but I can tell you that the preliminary findings confirm that, in any circumstance, the draft law is a very important step forward in the reform process.

The role of the European Court of Human Rights here is equally important.

One of the recurring issues identified in the Court's judgments has been the slow or non-implementation of domestic rulings.

Thus, in early September, the Rada (with the support of the opposition) adopted, in the first reading, the law on the swifter and stricter implementation of Court rulings. Moreover, the constitutional amendments on judiciary, submitted by the Rada to the Constitutional Court for review, are in line with the June 2013 Opinion of the Venice Commission.

Of course, we are not yet at the end of the process; a lot remains to be done, in particular in addressing the risks of "selective justice", but the active steps of reforms undertaken lately by the authorities nonetheless validate our approach of active and constructive engagement.

I used this as an example of how our co-operation with the Eastern Partnership can bring clear and tangible results. It does not usually form the basis of newspaper headlines, which tend rather to focus on the Tymoshenko case, but there is a reason why the Tymoshenko case is perceived the way it is: the existence in Ukraine of systemic problems of justice and prosecution. Systemic problems need a systemic solution; otherwise we run the risk of repeating the same errors, over and over again.

This is about Ukraine, but the results of this project confirm that important steps to reform the judiciary have been taken in most of the countries of the Eastern Partnership.

It is encouraging for example, that Georgia and Moldova have amended their legal framework in line with the project recommendations.

For instance, the 2012 amendments to the Law of Georgia on Common Courts strengthened the independence of the High Council of Justice, while the 2012 amendment to the Law on the Disciplinary Responsibility of Judges improved the independence of judges and the protection of their rights.

The project has laid a strong foundation, but we need to build upon that, just as we are in Ukraine.

The Project's recommendations confirm that there is a need to further strengthen judicial self-governance and to reduce political and other undue influence over judges.

We are currently finalising the Action Plan with Moldova. The Action Plans with Georgia and with Armenia have already been finalised, and we are working with Azerbaijan on a similar draft, ahead of the country's chairmanship of the Council of Europe.

I should like to conclude by putting all that into a larger context. The main advantage of the Council of Europe approach is that our work is convention-based with a non-politicised system of monitoring bodies and the Convention on top of this system.

I will end by saying that, of course, the Council of Europe will continue to
co-operate with the Eastern Partner countries of the European Union in order to reform their judicial systems and bring their national law and practice closer to European standards. The summit in Vilnius should give renewed impetus to this co-operation.

The Council of Europe and the European Union have common goals. European unity based on rule of law, human rights and democratic principles we have learned from the past.