Friday 21 August 2009

PACE Report on Political Abuse of Criminal Justice

As the Court is having its well-deserved summer break, I would like to point my readers' attention to a new report by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Rapporteur Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger has written 'Allegations of politically-motivated abuses of the criminal justice system in Council of Europe member states'. The report addresses various worrying developments in some of the bigger member states on issues closely related to the right to a fair trial (Article 6 ECHR). This is the summary:

The Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights recommends a series of steps to strengthen the independence of judges and prosecutors across Europe to end politically-motivated interference in individual cases. The draft resolution exposes ways that politicians can interfere in criminal proceedings in four countries
representing the principal types of criminal justice system in Europe, analysing high-profile cases such as the dropping of the British Aerospace fraud investigation and “cash for honours” scandal in the United Kingdom, or the second Khodorkovsky trial and HSBC/Hermitage Capital and Politkovskaya murder cases in the Russian Federation. Inter alia the Committee calls for:
• in the United Kingdom, a reform of the Attorney General’s role to strengthen his or her accountability to Parliament and a reversal of the erosion of Legal Aid funding to avoid “two-tier” justice;
• in France, reconsideration of the proposed abolition of the juge d’instruction or – if the abolition is to go ahead – at least a strengthening of the independence of prosecutors who will take over this role; an increase in the resources at the disposal of the judiciary as a whole and of defence lawyers in particular;
• in Germany, the setting-up of judicial councils – which exist in most other European countries – so that judges and prosecutors are given a greater say in running the judiciary, and a ban on the possibility for Justice Ministers to instruct the prosecution in individual cases;
• in the Russian Federation, a series of reforms to reduce the political and hierarchical pressures on judges and put an end to the harassment of defence lawyers in order to combat “legal nihilism” in the Russian Federation, as a precondition also for successful co-operation between Russian and other European law
enforcement authorities.