The highlight of the 11th General Assembly of the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary (ENCJ) in The Hague will be the presentation of the report on the Independence and Accountability of the Judiciary and of the Prosecution, says Frits Bakker. The chairman of the Netherlands Council for the Judiciary is looking forward to hosting the Assembly in The Hague (3-5 June) immensely, he says. ‘It is so much fun to be the host of this year’s Assembly. It is always inspiring to have so many bright minds together. Also, The Hague has a great deal to offer’, notes Bakker.
Chairman of the Netherlands Council for the Judiciary Frits Bakker considers the report on the Independence and Accountability of the Judiciary and of the Prosecution to be exceptional, because ‘for the first time the Judiciary has initiated a thorough comparison between Member States of the European Union with a Council for the Judiciary on independence and accountability. And it has provided us with a few surprising results that might raise a few eyebrows here and there.’ Bakker recalls: ‘Last year in Rome, when we adopted the indicators to measure the independence of the Judiciary, the Belgian media immediately started probing what effects these would have on the Belgian judicial system.’ In 2014 the ENCJ in Rome adopted the report Independence and Accountability of the Judiciary, but since it did not include data on how judges perceive their own independence, it was decided to undertake a survey among European judges. Almost 6,000 judges in 20 countries responded.
Judges are often sceptical or apprehensive of national and international figures and statistics on the Judiciary. They fear a ‘didn’t I tell you’- effect and they are also concerned that in the minds of policy makers statistics and figures may count more heavily than quality. ‘I understand their anxiety, but the intention of this report is exactly the opposite.’ According to Frits Bakker, these kinds of innovative ENCJ reports are useful in several ways. ‘We want to make use of the network of Councils for the Judiciary to harmonise procedures. It is in our interest that the rule of law all over Europe works along the same lines and with the same standards and values, so that wherever his case is heard, in Rotterdam or in Bordeaux or in Thessaloniki, a European citizen may be confident that he can get access to justice in a comparable fashion.’
A comparison between legal practices within the Member States of the European Union can also be useful for purely national reasons, notes Frits Bakker. ‘When a Council for the Judiciary is battling with its own Ministry of Justice about the budget or about changes in legislation, they can present a report like the one on independence and accountability and the EU Justice Scoreboard 2015, and say: “Do you want to make a few steps forward or do you want to keep on dangling at the bottom?” Then you will see that politicians are likely to cooperate. A survey among thousands of judges in 20 countries therefore is also a tool to engage in discussion with the executive and the legislature branches in your own country.’