Justice ministers from across Europe have given their backing to the Council of Europe’s new 2016-2021 action plan on strengthening judicial independence and impartiality. At a conference held in Sofia, justice ministers from the Council of Europe’s 47 member states and representatives of the judiciary agreed to take the necessary steps to implement the plan.
Mr Boïko Borissov, Prime Minister of the Republic of Bulgaria, Mr Daniel Mitov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Bulgaria, and Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, Mr Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, and Mrs Ekaterina Zaharieva, Minister of Justice of the Republic of Bulgaria, delivered speeches at the official opening of the conference.
Speaking at the conference, Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland said: “It is vital that judicial independence and impartiality exist in practice and are secured by law. It is equally important that public confidence in the judiciary be maintained or restored. The measures proposed are designed to promote a culture of respect for judicial independence and impartiality, which is crucial in a democratic society based on human rights and the rule of law.”
The objectives set include:
· establishing mechanisms to fully implement member states’ obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights to guarantee access to an independent and impartial tribunal;
· improving or establishing formal legal guarantees of judicial independence and impartiality and putting in place the necessary structures, policies and practices to ensure that these guarantees are respected and that the judicial branch functions properly;
· safeguarding and strengthening the judiciary in its relations with the executive and legislature;
· reinforcing the independence of the prosecution service;
· building public trust in the judiciary, including by taking society as a whole into account in the composition of tribunals and the judiciary.
The action plan is based on three lines of action involving a series of measures: 1) Safeguard and strengthen the judiciary in its relation with the executive and legislature; 2) Protect the independence of individual judges and ensure their impartiality; 3) Reinforce the independence of the prosecution service.
The Council of Europe supports member states in their efforts by offering the expertise and assistance of the Venice Commission, the Commission for the Efficiency of Justice, the anti-corruption group, the European Programme for Human Rights Education for Legal Practitioners (HELP) and its various committees of experts.