T.M.C. Asser Workshops: Promoting the rule of law and strengthening the judiciary in the Western-Balkan countries and Turkey
By Dr Tamara Takács, Senior Researcher T.M.C. Asser Instituut
Utilising their expertise in the areas of international law, human rights and the rule of law, senior experts from the T.M.C. Asser Instituut designed and delivered a series of five workshops for legal professionals in the period November 2014 to January 2015, focusing on topics that are of particular relevance to the legal systems and experiences of the Western Balkan states and Turkey.
Below, brief reflections on two of the workshops, namely the Role of the judiciary in fighting corruption held in Skopje, Macedonia and Legal Aid held in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. These workshops brought together judges, prosecutors and policy-makers to discuss the most pressing challenges in and reform aspirations for their states with respect to these two subject areas. At both workshops the participants of the target countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Kosovo and Turkey) presented and evaluated the overall legal framework in their respective countries, as well as the major hurdles and everyday challenges that members of the judiciary face. Lively discussion followed suit, which allowed for the sharing of views, best practices and offering suggestions among the participants.
The participants at the workshop in Skopje took particular note of the various challenges present in the fight against corruption, such as: institutional fragmentation that halts prosecution of corruption cases, the highly politicised character of some of the cases that come before judges and prosecutors, and, in some instances the lack of adequate deterrent sanctions. Positive experiences were also noted by pointing out successful investigations into and prosecution of corruption cases, and exposure of high-profile corruption incidents. The workshop also included representatives from the Office for Organized Crime and Corruption in Skopje and Transparency International’s Macedonia branch.
The workshop in Sarajevo focused on the promotion of access to justice and legal aid mechanisms and offered insight into each participating country’s particular situation with respect to these important issues. Financial constraints, an underdeveloped legal framework with respect to these subjects and a lack of information of the general public were highlighted as major obstacles to promoting access to justice and an effective legal aid system. At the same time, the important contribution that non-governmental organisations (“NGOs”) make in providing legal assistance to those seeking remedies through the legal process was highlighted as a distinct positive development in most of these countries. The programme was complemented by a presentation from a representative of a legal aid NGO, followed by a presentation from a representative of the Dutch Legal Aid Board on Dutch best practices in providing legal aid mechanisms.
The final workshop in the series, Enhancing the use of ADR, took place in Belgrade, Serbia on 23 January 2015.
This series of workshops drew participants from the alumni of the MATRA Patrol programme (see http://www.asser.nl/education-training/matra-patrol/). The project has been sponsored by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.