On Friday, 23 October, Executive Director of the Dutch Legal Aid Board, Peter van den Biggelaar, and HiiL Innovating Justice’s Product Manager Tsvetelina Mihaylova visited Banja Luka, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, to attend the 2015 ‘Crystal Scales of Justice’ Prize ceremony organised by the Council of Europe’s CEPEJ. Rechtwijzer was nominated for the Prize alongside other innovative initiatives from Scotland, Latvia and Serbia. These initiatives have developed information and communication technologies (ICT) that significantly improve the administration of justice and the functioning of courts.
The theme of the event was ‘How to improve the day-to-day functioning of courts towards a more effective justice?’. It provided both local and international justice stakeholders with a platform on which they can share their experiences, best practices and concerns. The views of the local stakeholders in Bosnia and Herzegovina were represented by the Ministry of Justice of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Ministry of Justice of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Ministry of Justice of Republika Srpska.
The court system of Bosnia and Herzegovina to a large extent reflect the complexity of its constitutional setup and is shaped to accommodate the interests of the ethnic division that characterises the country. The present Ministers of Justice of the respective authorities, as well as representatives of the Prosecutorial Council and the Supreme Court of the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, make it clear that opposing political interests sways the functioning of the judiciary in the country. While Republika Srpska advocates for more judicial autonomy, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina aspires to centralise the judiciary at the state-level. The search for an effective solution which works both for the country’s citizens and the judicial institutions in place is still ongoing and is subjected to national debate.
The international stakeholders’ view on the topic was represented by the President of CEPEJ, Georg Stawa and the Director of Statistics at the Italian Ministry of Justice and CEPEJ member, Fabio Bartolomeo. Both stressed the positive effects that the introduction of ICTs have on judicial systems and their efficiency, and welcomed the exchange of best practices across borders. The Prize ceremony itself aimed to promote such exchanges by allowing the four selected contenders to present their projects, and provide information about the impact in their respective local settings.
The ‘Judicial Hub’ project of the Judicial Institute of Scotland – an online platform for e-learning and exchange of information designed specifically for judges – won the Prize and the recognition of CEPEJ as an initiative worth replicating across Europe. While many were astonished by the implementation and achievements of Rechtwijzer in the Netherlands, it was noted that the Rechtwijzer platform required a specific environment to thrive in, an environment which has transitioned from the stage of using ICTs for communication purposes to the stage in which services are offered to citizens online. An environment which many of the 47 Council of Europe Member States has yet to develop.