A high-level Conference of Ministers of Justice and representatives of the judiciary dedicated to “Strengthening Judicial Independence and Impartiality as a Pre-condition for the Rule of Law in Council of Europe Member States” was organised by the Ministry of Justice of Bulgaria, in co-operation with the Council of Europe, in the framework of the current Bulgarian Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.
The Conference took place in Sofia on 21-22 April 2016 and provided an opportunity for Ministers of Justice and representatives of the judiciary at the highest level to take stock of recent reforms, identify challenges and agree on the measures to be taken.
Judicial independence is a fundamental principle of a democratic state based on human rights and the rule of law. How to adequately guarantee judicial independence and impartiality is a major challenge in many member states, raising important questions about the fairness of decision-making by courts and how to increase public trust in the justice system as a whole. It is important to examine how the Executive and the Legislature can respect and guarantee judicial independence and ensure the effective functioning of the judicial system in line with democratic principles. The judiciary is the cornerstone of any system of checks and balances, yet the Report of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe in 2015 on the State of Democracy, Human Rights and the Rule of Law: a shared responsibility for democratic security in Europe noted that over a third of Council of Europe member states were not guaranteeing sufficient standards of judicial impartiality and independence. Noting that these standards are perquisites for almost all elements of democratic security, the Secretary General underlined that the shortcomings were a matter of great concern.
Drawing on the results of a review in 2016 of the measures taken by member states to implement Recommendation CM/Rec(2010)12 on judges: independence, efficiency and responsibilities, a report prepared jointly by the Bureau of the Consultative Council of European Judges (CCJE) and the Bureau of the Consultative Council of European Prosecutors (CCPE) in 2016 on the Challenges for Judicial Independence and Impartiality in the Member States of the Council of Europe, and on the collective experience of member states, the Conference will provide an opportunity for Ministers of Justice and representatives of the judiciary at the highest level to take stock of recent reforms, identify challenges and agree on measures to deal with them. Three sessions will address separately the role of the judiciary in a democratic state and its relations with the Executive and the Legislature, how to protect the independence of individual judges and ensure their impartiality, and how to secure public trust in the judicial process.
The Conference was organised by the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Bulgaria in co-operation with the Council of Europe under the Bulgarian Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe and took place at the invitation of the Minister of Justice of Bulgaria, Mrs Ekaterina Zaharieva in Sofia on 21-22 April 2016. Participation in the Conference was by invitation only.
The aim of the Conference was to provide an opportunity to stimulate the dialogue between the Council of Europe and its member states on problems of independence and impartiality of the judiciary, and to highlight and provide incentives for ongoing reforms. This event will create a forum for the discussion and planning of targeted initiatives of the Council of Europe and its member states to strengthen the rule of law and develop a common response to emerging challenges. The overall objective remains to implement fundamental European standards in this field.
The 2nd report of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe on the state of democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Europe (2015) identifies the lack of judicial independence in many countries of Europe as one of the biggest challenges to democratic society today. It was found that the Standards of impartiality and independence were not sufficiently guaranteed.
Therefore, as a follow-up to his report, the Secretary General took the initiative to make the strengthening of judicial independence and impartiality a priority in the Council of Europe member states: in concrete terms, an Action Plan was developed by the Council of Europe and presented and discussed at Sofia at the high-level Conference.
Conference restricted website (for participants only): JusticeSofia2016.