The inaugural meeting of the Justice Forum was held on 30 May 2008. Holger Matt and Louise Hodges attended on behalf of the ECBA. The Justice Forum was introduced by Jacques Barrot, vice-Chair of the European Commission who outlined its purpose as a forum to examine issues in the area of justice and home affairs (both criminal and civil), to create an environment of open dialogue and to put the Commission in contact with professionals working in the field of justice. The Commission aims to collect views upstream and downstream and to collate opinions on how legislation may impact domestically in order to make better decisions on the requirement for legislation. He noted that in order for the forum to be a success the dialogue had to be frank and honest.
Currently the 2008 programme is scheduled to look at mutual recognition in criminal matters in July 2008 and then E-Justice in September 2008. At the same time the Commission have asked delegates to identify topics they would l like the Forum to look at to ensure that the programme reflects the needs as identified by the participants.
The welcome address was followed by a presentation by Jerard Deprez, Chair of the LIBE Committee at the European Parliament to look at the role of the European Parliament in the Forum. He was impressed by the number of practitioner networks in relation to Justice and Home Affairs who had shown their interest in the Forum by attending the meeting. He noted that the congregation of practitioners compiling judges, prosecutors and lawyers who were all keen to participate in the Forum would hopefully help to create a “European Justice culture”. Only by achieving this could there be mutual confidence and trust, without which mutual recognition could not work in practice.
He confirmed that two priorities during the French presidency will be the development of E-Justice and the training of magistrates and justice personnel. He commented that the Forum should not just be backward looking but also look to the future. Mr Deprez believed the timing was just right to create the Forum, coming as it does before the anticipated ratification of the Reform Treaty, which will bring co-decision between the Council and Parliament.
There followed a number of presentations from invited organisations attending the Forum who had been asked to give an overview of how they could contribute to the Forum. This session was introduced by Jonathan Faull, Director General of DG JLS (European Commission). Mr Faull reiterated that the Commission were seeking an open dialogue and to address real issues as experienced by experts in the field of justice, to look at the impact of measures already adopted, and to identify gaps that needed to be filled. He commented that the annual plenary session will be around 70 people but the working groups will be smaller sub groups concentrating on particular themes.
The organisations who were invited to speak were Eurojust, the European Judicial Network (EJN) in Criminal matters, EJN in Civil matters, the Network of the Supreme Judicial Courts of the EU, The European Network of Councils of the Judiciary, the Association of Councils of State, the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE), the European Criminal Bar Association (ECBA), and the European Judicial Training Network (EJTN).
Holger Matt, Chair of the ECBA introduced the aims and objectives of the ECBA and the work that the association does. He commented that the political failure to provide minimum procedural safeguards at an EU level had been a great disappointment to all practitioners in this area and the ECBA would look at any initiative which effectively promotes safeguards in Europe. The ECBA’s role in the Forum would be to fight and work constructively for citizens’ rights, not in theory but in practice.
Stephane Leyenberger, Secretary of the Council of Euope (CEPEJ) provided an overview of the working of the CEPEJ in the evaluation of judicial systems.
The session was the opened to the floor for representative network organisations to comment on the presentations.
The afternoon session was chaired by Franscisco Morillo, Director of Directorate C, DG JLS and looked at the priorities of the Forum, composition and working methods. Katja Rejec Longar, Director General, Ministry of Justice, International Co-operation Durectorate, Slovenia discussed the role of the Ministries of Justice. Her summary was that the Forum should be as unbureaucratic and cost-effective as possible and should not become an additional burden to the system.
Peter Csonka, Head of the Criminal Justice Unit then set out the priorities under criminal justice. He noted that the intention of the Forum was not to stop the discussions of Member States in Council but to add the voice of practitioners and provided a mechanism by which the Council can consult with practitioners where appropriate. He noted that the Commissions initiative on Procedural Rights had failed due to the requirement for unanimity and it had proved impossible for the Council to arrive at a consensus. he Commission hoped to revisit this topic, as mutual trust required there to be a recognised quality of justice. The first sub-group meeting is scheduled for 10 July to discuss mutual recognition in criminal matters. At that meeting a study of how mutual recognition instruments are working in practice would be reviewed. The other topics for 2008 were victims in criminal proceedings and Ejustice. Again, These topics would be discussed in sub-groups rather than the full tplenary session. The programme in the field of civil justice was also set out.
The final session invited general remarks from the floor. Several organisations made suggestions and comments and representatives of the member states ministries of justice who were in attendance also made comments. Perhaps of particular interest were the comments from the UK delegation who noted that there was a need to continue to review how the Forum worked and the level of representation but the hope was that with proper direction the Forum would provide an opportunity to have evidence-based policy-making. The UK also wanted to dispel the belief that it was not possible to agree a framework decision on procedural safeguards because there were not shared common values. In fact there is a very high degree of common values but the difficulties had been procedural rather than substantive.
The closing remarks from Franscisco Morillo noted that there was no ownership of the Forum but the aim was to be as transparent as possible. A computer network was to be established to provide the participants with information and the networks were encouraged to submit ideas both relating to topics and the working methods of the Forum.