JUSTPAL Communities of Practice Meetings for Court Managers and Administrators, 11-12 juin 2012, The Hague (Netherlands), La Haye (Pays-Bas), organisé en coopération ave The Hague Institute for Global Justice and JUSTPAL (Justice Sector Peer-Assisted Learning Network)


 Frans van der Doelen, member of the CEPEJ

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am honoured to host this dinner for the International Association of Judges, as part of the meeting that the Dutch Association for the Judiciary (the NVVR) is hosting this year.

As is the custom in the Netherlands, I consult regularly with the NVVR in my capacity as justice minister (though I didn’t consult them about tonight’s menu!) These consultations not only cover financial issues like salaries and terms of employment. We also discuss the requirements we set for the judicial profession. So I read the agenda for this meeting with great interest.

One of the matters you will be discussing are the problems facing the courts in a number of countries. Looking at the Netherlands from an international perspective, I think I can say that our judges meet a high standard. The Dutch have great confidence in the legal system. Our government is strongly committed to judicial independence and has great respect for the courts’ role in upholding the rule of law in our country.

Of course my ministry welcomes the NVVR’s initiatives for a judicial code of conduct. I believe that discussing our own core values, and engaging in dialogue about those values with society at large, can only increase public confidence even more. Your agenda also focuses on the European dimensions of the court’s work that have now become so important. Your interest in what’s happening in Brussels and Strasbourg is both appropriate and necessary.

Naturally there are differences between European countries in how the courts work. But especially in the last decade, there have been many common, positive developments. I would like to illustrate this using the 2010 edition of the Council of Europe’s report on European Judicial Systems.

-       Judicial budgets increased in 43 of the 47 member states.

-       In most of these countries, judges and prosecutors themselves are directly involved in the selection, appointment and promotion of their peers.

-       The salaries of judges and prosecutors have risen significantly.

-       Judicial backlogs have been reduced, and cases disposed of more quickly.

In short, things are generally going well in Europe with the administration of justice. But we should also note that the current financial and economic crisis is having a serious impact on many countries. So the courts’ budgets and performance once more require our full attention. How can we administer justice with less money without undermining the rule of law? You may remember the song from the 1960s from the musical Cabaret, ‘Money makes the world go around.’ This applies equally to the administration of justice. To cite the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice in its report on European Judicial Systems: ‘Although it is not for the CEPEJ at this stage to define the proper level of financial resources to be allocated to the justice system, a correlation can be noted between the poor performance and low efficiency of some judicial systems and the weakness of their financial resources.’

I’m sure this is music to your ears. But you should also bear in mind the Commission’s following words: ‘However, the opposite is not always true: high financial resources are not always a guarantee of good performance and efficiency of judicial systems. Other factors must be considered here (like relevance of the procedures, management of the financial and employment resources, role of the players in the judicial system, training, etc.).’

In short, money is important, but it’s not everything. To successfully cope with the financial crisis and eventual cuts in judicial budgets, creative and innovative solutions are needed. For example:

-       reforming the courts’ organisation and topography;

-       streamlining judicial procedures and procedural law;

-       integrating ICT further into the everyday work of the courts;

-       preventing duplication of effort through more cooperation between stakeholders in the justice system.

In these challenging times, the executive and judicial branches share responsibility for protecting and bolstering the rule of law. Successful judicial innovations and reforms will only be possible if the courts play an active and constructive part in the process. This will be a key task in the years ahead for justice professionals, national judges’ associations and the International Association of Judges.

Thank you.