On 9 November 2023, the Seventh Judicial Forum for Bosnia and Herzegovina was held in Sarajevo entitled “Independence and Impartiality of Judiciary” viewed in the light of Amendments to the Law on the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The Forum was organized by the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the non-governmental organization AIRE Centre with the support of the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council of Bosnia and Herzegovina (HJPC BiH). It gathered over 70 presidents, judges and representatives of the highest BiH judicial institutions, judges of the European Court for Human Rights, and representatives of international organizations and civil society.
On behalf of the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the following participated in the work of the Seventh Judicial Forum: Valerija Galić, President of the Constitutional Court, Mirsad Ćeman and Zlatko M. Knežević, Vice-Presidents of the Constitutional Court, Ledi Bianku, Judge of the Constitutional Court, Sevima Sali Terzić, Registrar, Erda Začiragić, Head of the Office of the President, Ivanka Mrkonjić, Head of the Department for Review of Merits of Cases, Ermina Dumanjić, Head of the Constitutional Case Law Section and Bojan Erbez, Legal Advisor.
The Forum was opened by the President of the Constitutional Court, Valerija Galić. In her introductory speech she emphasized that the HJPC of Bosnia and Herzegovina, 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.
President Galić said: “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”.
Vice-President of the Constitutional Court Zlatko M. Knežević, who is also a member of the Venice Commission and the Enlarged Bureau, participated in the Forum as a keynote speaker and moderator. He emphasized 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.
Vice President Knežević said: “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 emphasized. Therefore, our discussion today is on the trail of very critical assessment of international organizations, 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.
Ledi Bianku, Judge of the Constitutional Court and a former judge of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), participated in the work of the Forum as keynote speaker and moderator. He pointed out the main challenges of the ECtHR with regards to the independence and impartiality of the judiciary, as well as the importance of BiH harmonizing its judicial reforms with European standards, especially the standards established by the European Convention on Human Rights and the Venice Commission, which are essential for BiH's ambitions on the path towards the EU.
At the Seventh Judicial Forum for BiH, it was concluded that the Amendments to the Law on the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council of Bosnia and Herzegovina (HJPC BiH) are a significant turning point in the process of strengthening the transparency and independence of the judicial system, but they are also on the path to bring BiH closer to the European Union. However, with the new Law on the HJPC of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which will be adopted next year, it will be necessary to remove the existing obstacles that prevent the implementation and essential operation of this Law.
The Judicial Forum for Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was organized with the support of the Government of the United Kingdom, is an annual event that brings together representatives of the highest authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina and European judicial institutions, international and non-governmental organizations, and internationally recognized experts, in order to improve the application of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and support the judicial system of BiH in the process of preparation for European integration. The Forum contributes to the additional improvement of cooperation between the highest judicial instances in BiH, and to the harmonization of national case law with the European standards, and thus to the legal certainty that all citizens in BiH can rely on.