Newsletter 3/2010 - Our South East Europe

Independent judiciary instrumental for successful fight against corruption

Last month’s international anticorruption conference, organized by the Regional Cooperation Council in Bucharest, put the status of judiciary in South East Europe under the spotlight.

A thorough report on ‘Integrity and Resistance to Corruption of the Criminal Judicial System in South Eastern European Countries’, presented at the meeting by the Transparency International Romania, revealed that after more than two decades from the fall of communism, “in many parts of South East Europe the corruption phenomenon is endemic”.

The study said that such corruption has a harsh effect on fundamental democratic principles of rule of law, transparency, democratic accountability and equity in dealing with citizens.

The analysis carries a list of the most frequent causes of judicial corruption: undue influence by the executive and legislative branches (appointments, promotions, transfers, removals); weak disciplinary mechanisms; low judicial and court staff salaries; poor training; fear of retribution (by political or judicial powers, media, and criminal gangs); inadequately monitored court administrative procedures; lack of transparency (litigants, media, public don’t know what happens in court); and social tolerance of corruption

The Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) Secretariat’s Senior Expert on Justice and Home Affairs, Virgil Ivan-Cucu, stresses that corruption is not a problem that can be attacked in isolation.

“Systemic corruption could be opposed only by a multidisciplinary anticorruption system, efficient at local, regional and global level.”

“Criminal law approach that simply searches for bad apples or big fishes to punish them is not sufficient. High level corruption prosecutions are not solving the problem. Corruption is curbed through structural reforms, credible and lasting anticorruption laws, and coherent institutional mechanism to implement and enforce them, supported by an independent, fair and impartial justice.”

The fight against high level corruption is a layer of this complex occurrence present in the region.

“This reflects the basic paradox of the fight against corruption. For this fight to be successful, independent judiciary and law enforcement authorities free of political and lobbyist interferences are essential”, says Ivan Bizjak, Director General for Justice and Home Affairs at the Council of the European Union.

According to Bizjak, such ideal situation cannot be achieved overnight, particularly due to the resistance of those who find the corruptive environment suitable for their goals.”

“Regional context can play an important supportive role to the national authorities’ efforts and may facilitate the support from outside the region (EU, Council of Europe/GRECO and others). In this way, high standards can be promoted, best practices exchanged, and channels for the exchange of information and experiences established.”

Vesna Ratkovic, Chair of the Regional Anti-Corruption Initiative (RAI) and Director of Directorate for Anti-corruption Initiative of Montenegro, believes that an efficient judicial system is instrumental to fighting all kinds of corruption, including the high-level corruption, primarily in terms of timely and quality cooperation between public prosecutors and police in pre-criminal proceedings.

“It is necessary to prevent ‘leakage’ of information from the proceedings, enable gathering of quality evidence with application of new investigative methods and techniques, and reverse the evidence-providing responsibility in relation to the property that is suspected to have been acquired through criminal activities.”

As for the integrity of judicial systems in a regional context, Ratkovic is of an opinion that there should be objective selection criteria for judges and prosecutors, disabling nepotisms for employment in judiciary.

“A supervision of work in judiciary should also be enabled, reduced length of court proceedings, while random allocation of cases should be introduced combined with electronic case management system and monitoring of ethical codes application.”

Ivan-Cucu explains that the right balance between independence and accountability is crucial for the justice system integrity and resistance to corruption.

“The rule of law, good governance, efficient functioning of the judiciary, public trust and confidence in justice all depend on the fragile and permanently disputed equilibrium between independence and accountability.”

He adds that although the need for regional cooperation is most evident in criminal issues, there is also a need for cooperation that extends to a range of practical challenges that people face in their daily lives, such as labour and family law, inheritance and property rights and mutual recognition of civil court decisions.

“This is going to be another priority for the Regional Cooperation Council in the upcoming period along with the continued efforts to minimize presence of corruption in our societies.”

Finally, both Bizjak and Ratkovic underline that judiciary should no longer be closed to the public but work more on awareness-raising and its contacts with the media in order to gain trust from the citizens. 


Participants of a two-day regional South East European anti-corruption conference in Bucharest, Romania, 20-21 May 2010. (Photo RCC/Dinka Zivalj)

Participants of a two-day regional South East European anti-corruption conference in Bucharest, Romania, 20-21 May 2010. (Photo RCC/Dinka Zivalj)