Retour 60th anniversary of the European Commission on Legal Co-operation (CDCJ) and 100th plenary meeting

Strasbourg 30 May 2023
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As delivered by Bjørn Berge, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe


Chair of the European Committee on Legal Co-operation, the CDCJ,

Chair of the Committee of Ministers’ Rapporteur Group on Legal Co-operation, dear Petr,


Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,


Sixty years ago, the Council of Europe looked very different.

Just a dozen or so member states.

No permanent European Court of Human Rights.

And most of the tools and treaties that we have today, were not even imagined, much less drafted and ratified.

Europe was certainly poorer, physically divided, and the death penalty was still in place in many countries.

But then we created the CDCJ –

And what a difference it has made.

As one of this Organisation’s oldest standard – setting mechanisms, it has played a unique role in developing a pan-European legal framework.

This is true of both public and private law.

Looking back over the last 60 years –

And 100 plenary meetings –

The CDCJ has elaborated more than 160 legal instruments.

Be it conventions and recommendations –

Or resolutions and guidelines –

Often adopting a new and innovative approach to key areas of law –

And sometimes leading to the establishment of new Committees to help ensure that the Conventions it has written are implemented and put to good effect.

The CDCJ’s work has covered a very wide specter of areas, ranging from the drafting the European Convention on Nationality –

Establishing principles and rules, such as the military obligations of those with multiple nationalities –

Through to our Committee of Ministers’ recommendation on whistle-blowers –

Which has become a reference point for countries across Europe.

Let me also mention the Civil Law Convention on Corruption –

Also used as a reference standard in the important work of GRECO, our Group of States against Corruption which, in turn, does so much to ensure integrity and good governance on our continent –

The overall impact of this Committee’s efforts, over six long decades, has been transformative – if not historic.

Just look at the long-lasting impact of the CDCJ’s work on data protection.

It was the CDCJ that drafted Convention 108, our landmark Data Protection Convention, back in 1981.

Convention 108 was one of the first international treaties to recognise the importance of people’s privacy in the digital age –

Including their right to control their own personal data –

And the understanding that when such data is processed, it should be done fairly and transparently.

These principles have echoed down through the work of the Consultative Committee set-up to oversee the implementation of Convention 108 –

The remit of the Data Protection Commissioner –

And modern data protection laws and regulations –

Including the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation – the GDPR.

Yes, Convention 108 will live on, and I hope that its modernised version will soon enter into force.

But it is also important to acknowledge the CDCJ’s ongoing work – as well –

Responding to new and evolving challenges that our societies face here and now.

Just last year, your Committee completed a review of the Sofia Action Plan on Strengthening Judicial Independence and Impartiality –

An Action Plan whose roots are embedded in this Committee – authored 2010 recommendation to member states on the independence, efficiency, and responsibility of judges.

Your review did find good progress in many countries when it comes to ensuring a stronger role for self-governing bodies –

Minimising the risk of external influence over judges’ careers –

And ensuring the use of codes of ethics.

But it also found gaps in practice.

So, you are definitely right to continue your periodic reviews of the Sofia Action Plan –

And I believe, your insights will remain critical to ensuring our priority of judicial independence, such a critical principle of rule of law

Also your work on access to justice will be very important –

Including the recent Guidelines on the efficiency and effectiveness of legal aid schemes in the areas of civil and administrative law.

As you know, recent economic crises have no doubt put financial strain on individuals and legal systems.

Poverty is rising in some countries –

With fewer people able to afford legal fees –

And cash-strapped authorities finding it ever harder to support them.

Marginalised and disadvantaged communities and individuals should not have their access to justice choked off by the ongoing financial squeeze.

This is a fairness test for Europe’s justice systems –

And I know that you will do what you can to help them pass it.

Just as I know that the Committee will continue to take measures that ensure children are treated well in legal processes - another important issue.

Your work on custody decisions has certainly had a positive impact –

With the European Court of Human Rights relying on it when reaching related judgments –

And the Guidelines that you wrote on child-friendly justice mean that some of our continent’s youngest citizens are now treated with more sensitivity –

Whether they are witnesses to crime, or the victims of it.

There are other areas that I could mention.

Your contribution, for example, to the Council of Europe’s work on Artificial Intelligence, which was also a topic at the Summit in Reykjavik –

Including our forthcoming new framework convention –

Or your recent work on a new instrument for the protection of lawyers –

And which the CDCJ has the opportunity to elaborate as a legally-binding instrument. Protecting lawyers’ independence is indeed essential to the good functioning of justice systems.

And is needed at a time when the profession is fast-changing and sometimes under political attack.

I could go on, as the list of your achievements and priorities is comprehensive and long.

But I will stop here, only to highlight that its length is a testament to your skills, value and dedication -

And to that of your colleagues over the last 60 years.

Dear friends,

I know that over the next six decades you will continue to set standards –

Assist member states in simplifying procedures –

And facilitate the exchange of information and good practice that improves justice across all across our Continent.

You have 60 years of achievements behind you – but you are in very good shape to be 60 years old!

So the best of luck in your current and future work,  and congratulations on this important anniversary.


Thank you for your attention.