Keeping politics out of the law: PACE committee wants greater independence for judges

Strasbourg, 23.06.2009 – A report approved today by the Legal Affairs Committee of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) has recommended a series of steps to boost the independence of judges across Europe to end what it calls “politically-motivated interference” in individual cases.

The report, prepared by Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger (Germany, ALDE), exposes ways that politicians can meddle with the law in four countries representing the principal types of criminal justice system in Europe, analysing high-profile cases such as the dropping of the BAE fraud investigation and “cash for honours” scandal in the United Kingdom, or the second Khodorkovsky trial, HSBC/Hermitage Capital case and Politkovskaya investigation in Russia.

Among other things, the parliamentarians call for:

• in the United Kingdom, urgent reform of the Attorney General’s role to strengthen his or her accountability to Parliament, and reverse the erosion of Legal Aid funding to avoid “two-tier” justice;

• in France, reconsidering the proposed abolition of the juge d’instruction or – if the abolition is to go ahead – at least strengthening the independence of prosecutors who will take over this role, and increasing judges’ and prosecutors’ salaries;

• in Germany, the setting-up of judicial councils – as in the vast majority of other European countries – so that judges administer themselves, and banning Justice Ministers from giving the prosecution instructions in individual cases;

• in Russia, a series of reforms to reduce the political pressures on judges and end the harassment of defence lawyers in order to combat “legal nihilism” in Russia.

The Parliamentary Assembly is due to debate the report at its autumn session
(28 September-2 October 2009) in Strasbourg.