Participants in the regional conference in Jahorina
Participants in the regional conference in Jahorina

From 5 to 7 October 2017, a regional conference organised jointly by the local constitutional court and the IRZ on the “Theory and practice of the independence of constitutional courts” was held in Jahorina, Bosnia and Herzegovina. As well as constitutional court judges from Germany and Bosnia and Herzegovina, constitutional court representatives from the following countries also took part in the conference: Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia. The Constitutional Court of Serbia was represented by its President, Vesna Ilić Prelić, amongst others, and the President of the Constitutional Court of Montenegro, Dr. Dragoljub Drašković, was also present.

After the opening of the event by the President of the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mirsad Ćeman, and the IRZ, the German Ambassador in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Christiane Hohmann, also welcomed the participants. She stressed the importance of the independence and neutrality of constitutional courts and all other courts.

The three-day event was characterised by an intense exchange of ideas and lively discussions, which were inspired by keynote speeches and reports on the practical experiences of representatives from the participating constitutional courts, as well as by a former judge at the German Federal Constitutional Court, Professor Dr. Udo Steiner, and the former President of the Constitutional Court of the State of Saxony-Anhalt, Winfried Schubert.

The focus of the discussions was on the practical implementation of the basic principle of the independence of constitutional courts. The constitutional courts of the south-east European states named above believe their independence is compromised above all by the media. They complained that the media indiscriminately gives politics room to influence public opinion with regard to the pending decisions of the constitutional court in their own interests. In this context, the German speakers explained the basic principle of the loyalty of constitutional bodies, which was met with great interest.

The particular importance of constitutional courts carrying out active and transparent media work was also pointed out. This helps courts to gain respect amongst the general public, which then results in greater independence. However, it was also noted that a constitutional court can only be convincing if judgements are well-justified, whereby the pressure to provide justification is the downside of judicial independence.

The unanimous conclusion of the regional conference was that the legal framework for the independence of constitutional courts is by and large adequate. All the same, some of the participating constitutional courts complained that they were short of staff and financial means.

As has become standard practice for this series of regional conferences, which was started by the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2003, the speeches are also published in the court’s publications so that they can be made available to the professional public. The following constitutional courts in the region also reported on the conference on their websites: