June 5, 2015

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'Pretty independent judiciaries, but also cause for concern'

Judges in Europe generally regard themselves as pretty independent, but  the results of the exhaustive ENCJ report on independence and accountability also provide concern about the pressures to which, in some places, judges feel they are subjected. ENCJ President Geoffrey Vos came to this conclusion in his evaluation of this ENCJ Report (pdf, 6.4 MB) that was adopted today at the ENCJ General Assembly in The Hague. 5,878 judges took part in a survey on how they feel about their own independence.

 

Avarage score 8.8

Although there are differences among countries, the vast majority of judges believe they have not been under inappropriate pressure to take a decision in a case in a specific way in the last two years (see also table below). Consistent with this, the average score of the judges when asked to assess their own independence was 8.8. There is much room for improvement though with respect to independence as well as accountability, judging from the difference between the actual scores and what are deemed good arrangements. Generally, countries score higher on objective independence (formal characteristics of legal systems) than on subjective independence (perceptions of independence). With regard to objective independence, funding of the judiciary and court management score lowest.

 

Afbeelding toevoegen From left to right: Eleanor Sharpston, advocate-general Court of Justice of the EU, ENCJ-president Sir Geoffrey Vos, European Commissionair  Věra Jourová and Chairman Frits Bakker of the Dutch Council of the Judiciary.

Judicial bribery

The funding of the judiciary is usually not well arranged, and judiciaries are dependent on discretionary decisions by the government. The report ‘Independence and Accountability of the Judiciary and of the Prosecution’ says the Netherlands has a good system in place in this area. This could serve as an example, but the other state powers are not interested to change the system. Several other outcomes of the survey also give reason for concern. A large number of judges did not feel that their independence had been respected by government and the media. And many also thought that appointments and promotions in their countries had not been made solely on the basis of ability and experience. In half of the countries surveyed, more than 30% of judges either thought that judicial bribery had occurred in the last 2 years or were not sure if it had.

 

Quality justice system

In the coming year, the ENCJ will start a series of dialogue groups aimed at finding solutions to the problems faced by Councils for Judiciary in relation to their independence and accountability. Also work will be done on identifying indicators of quality and effective justice systems, because ‘nobody has done very much work on what it means to have a quality justice system in a democratic society’, Lord Justice Vos said.
At the closing of the General Assembly today in the Peace Palace in The Hague, ENCJ President Vos announced that the 2016 General Assembly will be held in Warsaw, Poland.
 
Judges asked in the survey: During the last two years I have been under inappropriate pressure to take a decision in a case or part of a case in a specific way.

Disagreeing in:

 

Countryrespondentspercentage
Albania6767 %
Belgium29196 %
Bulgaria28288 %
Denmark15499 %
England and Wales59690 %
Ireland7699 %
Italy32892 %
Latvia14664 %
Lithuania13788 %
Montenegro3294 %
Netherlands38397 %
Northern Ireland2990 %
Norway31597 %
Poland62191 %
Portugal6894 %
Romania18697 %
Scotland8794 %
Slovakia24886 %
Slovenia24986 %
Serbia59089 %
Spain47480 %
Sweden51995 %