On September 30 – October 1, we were pleased to once again support our Network judges in Croatia in organizing a conference in one of the country’s larger regional capitals, Zadar. Over 70 judges from Croatia and other countries across the region participated.

The judges used the conference to look closely at the issues related to independence and impartiality of justice—both of which are challenged in the region. The content of the program was particularly framed around Opinion No. 18 of the Consultative Council of European Judges (CCJE) addressing “the position of the judiciary and its relation with other powers of state in a modern democracy.” Discussions were further augmented by references to relevant case decisions of the European Court of Human Rights and the concepts of impartiality and independence articulated and defined therein. Such discussions are particularly relevant in the region as working level judges are not, contrary to common assumption, well versed in the broader jurisprudence of the EU or the COE, nor its application and relevance to their daily work.

Related to the issues of judicial accountability, the conference also focused on relations between the judiciary and the media, and how to handle the new phenomena of social media. The U.S. expert, Mr. David Sellers, Assistant Director, Office of Public Affairs in Administrative Office of the United States Courts, addressed this topic. This topic was highly appreciated and discussed among the participants as judges in CEE countries face huge pressure from the media, especially when handling politically sensitive cases and high-level corruption cases.  The participants actively shared their experiences about their approach to communication with the media.

This program was also special in that it represented a successful organizational effort on the part of the Network judges who were able to bring together a host of organizers to support the event. Participating entities included the Croatian Association of Judges, the University of Zadar, the CEELI institute (INL), the U.S. Embassy in Zagreb, and other stakeholders. The Croatian Minister of Justice, Mr. Ante Šprlje, opened the conference.