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Seventh Annual Conference of the Judicial Forum for Bosnia and Herzegovina
November 09, 2023

The amendments to the Law on the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council of Bosnia and Herzegovina (HJPC BiH) mark a significant milestone in the process of enhancing the transparency and independence of the judicial system, as well as in advancing Bosnia and Herzegovina’s path towards European Union integration. However, it was concluded at the Seventh Annual Conference of the Judicial Forum for Bosnia and Herzegovina, held today in Sarajevo, that with the new Law on the HJPC BiH, which will be adopted next year, it will be essential to address existing barriers that impede the implementation and effective operation of this Law.

The Judicial Forum for Bosnia and Herzegovina, titled “Independence and Impartiality of the Judiciary”, organised by the AIRE Center and the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, with the support of the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council of Bosnia and Herzegovina, gathered over 70 presidents, judges, and representatives of the highest judicial institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, judges of the European Court of Human Rights, as well as representatives of international organisations and civil society.

This year’s Judicial Forum for Bosnia and Herzegovina is dedicated to one of the most pivotal moments in the reform of the Bosnian-Herzegovinian judiciary, with the adoption of amendments to the Law on the HJPC BiH. For years, this law has been a subject of numerous debates, reports, analyses, and public discussions, capturing the attention of both the legal community and the wider public. Today, we had the opportunity to hear from legal experts and all relevant stakeholders about the extent to which the adopted amendments have met expectations and what further steps are necessary for the reform of the Bosnian-Herzegovinian judiciary“, said Biljana Braithwaite, Director of the Western Balkans Program at the AIRE Center, at the conference opening.

In her opening speech, President of the Constitutional Court of BiH, Valerija Galić, emphasised that the HJPC of BiHa, as an independent and impartial institution, has a great role in exercising of judicial power, and from the very beginning, when it was formed, it represented the independence of the legal profession.

“I believe that the Law on Amendments to the Law on the HJPC of BiH represents the beginning of a serious judicial reform in BiH. It is known that this law is one of the four key laws from the Recommendations for bringing BiH closer to the European Union”, said Judge Galić.

Halil Lagumdžija, President of the HJPC BiH, welcomed the adoption of amendments to the Law on the HJPC BiH, highlighting that the HJPC BiH had been advocating for these changes for years.

“We believe that certain provisions of the Law, such as the establishment of a Department to handle proceedings based on reports, and activities within it, aimed at verifying data from judges’ and prosecutors’ financial reports, will significantly enhance the integrity and accountability of the holders of the judicial functions”, Lagumdžija stated.

“However, due to concerns that the verification process could face obstacles due to certain entity and cantonal regulations, we believe that the lex specialis provisions of the Law on the HJPC BiH could potentially address this issue of non-enforceability of the law”, Lagumdžija added.

Vice-President of the Constitutional Court of BiH Zlatko M. Knežević, who is also a member of the Venice Commission and the Enlarged Bureau, emphasised that the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s advisory body for constitutional issues, had on several occasions dealt with the subject relating to the Law on the HJPC of BiH and made clear recommendations, which include the Opinion on Legal Certainty and the Independence of the Judiciary in BiH from 2012, the Opinion on the Draft Law on the HJPC of BiH from 2014, and the 2021 Opinion.

“In all the Opinions, several positions stand out: the necessity, at least of the functional separation (if not formal) of the subcommittee for judges and prosecutors; the necessity of fully specifying the disciplinary responsibility of judges, prosecutors and members of the HJPC of BiH; the necessity of judicial protection after disciplinary proceedings; and in the current Opinion, there is a very critical assessment of the Integrity Unit, where the vagueness of the provisions on functional independence, composition and work of that unit is particularly emphasised. Therefore, our discussion today is on the trail of very critical assessment of international organisations, such as the ‘Expert Report on the Rule of Law in Bosnia and Herzegovina’ (Pribe’s Report), but also on the trail of a review of the newly adopted text and its comparison with the given Opinions”, said judge Knežević.

Julian Reilly, the British Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina, outlined at the Forum’s opening how judicial reform must be targeted to be effective, and that these obligations must then be implemented.

“I hope that the next legislative steps, including the adoption of a new ‘comprehensive’ Law on the HJPC BiH, will be bold and bring about the necessary and substantial changes in the current legal framework. Changes that will enable Bosnia and Herzegovina to achieve its set goals, including functional rule of law and a completely independent judiciary”, said Ambassador Reilly.

During the panel discussion, Davor Bunoza, the Minister of Justice of Bosnia and Herzegovina, addressed the Ministry’s stance on the new amendments to the Law on the HJPC BiH.

“It is not enough to talk about the problems in the judiciary without a genuine desire to solve them. The amendments to the Law on the HJPC BiH may not be perfect, but they represent significant progress compared to the current state”, stated Bunoza.

Ivana Korajlić, Executive Director of the non-governmental organization Transparency International Bosnia and Herzegovina, stated that the process of amending the Law on the HJPC BiH has shown that there is not enough willingness to truly introduce effective mechanisms of accountability and integrity in the judiciary.

“After four years of work, the adopted solution already leads to problems in implementation and leaves room for the prescribed oversight mechanisms to be undermined. Therefore, it becomes even more important to make the process of drafting the new Law transparent and inclusive, although we can already assume the extent of resistance to adopting a comprehensive solution, given the significant obstructions and manipulations in the process of ‘urgent’ amendments”, said Korajlić.

Marko Bošnjak, Deputy President of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), Arnfinn Bårdsen, Section President of the ECtHR , and Ledi Bianku, former ECtHR judge and judge of the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, highlighted the main challenges facing the ECtHR regarding ensuring independence and impartiality, as well as the importance for Bosnia and Herzegovina to align its judicial reforms with European standards, particularly those established by the European Convention on Human Rights and the Venice Commission, which are essential for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s EU ambitions.

The Judicial Forum for Bosnia and Herzegovina, organised with the support of the Government of the United Kingdom, is an annual event that brings together representatives of the highest Bosnian and European judicial institutions, international and non-governmental organisations, and internationally recognized experts to improve the implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights and fundamental freedoms and to support the judicial system of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the process of preparing for European integration. The Forum contributes to further enhancing cooperation among the highest judicial authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as to harmonising and aligning domestic judicial practices with European standards, thus ensuring legal certainty for all citizens in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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