As the first chairman of the Netherlands Council for the Judiciary (2002-2008) Bert van Delden witnessed the birth of the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary (ENCJ) in 2004. Why did he feel the need for this European network some 11 years ago? ‘Cooperation had become urgent because of rapid developments within the European Union and also because of increasing responsibilities for judges. Judges are somewhat conservative when it comes to cooperation, but they have to keep up with the times. Investigating authorities have moved a lot further’, according to the co-founder of the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary.
The European network has expanded markedly over the years. More than Bert van Delden had expected. ‘Not to be eclipsed from the start, my suggestion was to start modestly with three small Councils for the Judiciary in the Netherlands, Belgium and Ireland. We invited a few other European countries, but by doing so we opened the floodgates. Many other countries applied. In some countries the prosecution is part of the Council for the Judiciary. I would have preferred to leave them out, but that was beyond my reach. It became such a hodgepodge that we thought, we'll let everyone in.’ By doing so, the network paid a price, adds Van Delden: ‘A lot of discussions about minor issues. And the problem of funding. But we had the feeling that we were on the right track.’ Eventually the ENCJ turned to the European Union. ‘With the EU you know where it begins, but the red tape is enormous and no one knows where it will end. Nevertheless the move towards the EU was a good thing, because the network must be truly European.’
Looking back at the birth of the ENCJ and its development, Bert van Delden is satisfied. ‘The fact that there is no blueprint for Councils for the Judiciary makes it imperative to work together and to learn from each other’s experiences.’ And he quotes from the recent lecture by Sir Geoffrey Vos, the current President of the ENCJ, in Brno (Czech Republic): ‘You will never have an independent Judiciary in which the population have confidence if there is no mechanism to provide a separation between the functioning Judiciary on the one hand and the government on the other.’