The CEELI Institute was honored to again support the Annual Conference of Chief Justices of Central and Eastern Europe, this year hosted in Bratislava by the Supreme Court of Slovakia in May. This Conference was originally launched in Prague, at the Institute, with support from the U.S. Department of State, and with the personal commitment of United States Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. The Conference is now a self-sustaining body that meets annually, and provides the opportunity for the region’s Chief Justices to discuss common challenges, share ideas, and work towards solutions. The CEELI Institute remains the only non-governmental organization invited to participate in the Conference.

Front and center among this year’s discussions were the ongoing challenges to judicial independence that continue to be seen and felt across the region. Among the participants was Judge Malgorzata Gersdorf, First President of the Supreme Court of Poland, who has been at the forefront of efforts to maintain the independence of the Polish judiciary.

The Conference continues to rotate between member states, and each year is hosted by a Chief Justice from a different country. Conferences over the past several years have been hosted by Albania (2012), Montenegro (2013), the Republic of Georgia (2014), Croatia (2015), Serbia (2016), Hungary (2017), and Lithuania (2019). The CEELI Institute is delighted to continue to play an active and important role in the organization and continuity of this program.

Among the achievements of the Conference has been the signing, in 2015, of the Statement of Principles of the Independence of the Judiciary, known now as the Brijuni Statement (after the seaside town in Croatia where the 2015 Conference was held). The Brijuni Statement is modeled after a similar effort undertaken by the Conference of Chief Justices of Asia and the Pacific, which resulted in the adoption of the Beijing Statement of Principles of the Independence of the Judiciary in 1995. The Brijuni Statement is a reaffirmation of a long-held and shared belief amongst its signatories in judicial independence and the obligation to uphold the rule of law. The CEELI Institute is gratified to be able to support the publication and distribution of the Brijuni Statement of Principles of the Independence of the Judiciary, and the Statement has been available on the CEELI Institute website. It joins other useful legal instruments addressing judicial independence, the drafting of which have been supported by the CEELI Institute, including the Manual on Independence, Impartiality and Integrity of Justice: A Thematic Compilation of International Standards, Policies and Best Practices.  The 2019 Conference saw a nineteenth signatory to the document, when it was signed by Judge Lozan Panov of the Supreme Court of Cassation of Bulgaria, an outspoken defender of judicial independence.