Regional conference of constitutional courts on voting rights in Montenegro

  • Dieter Hömig, a former judge at the German Constitutional Court; Stefan Pürner, IRZ; Desanka Lopičić, President of the Constitutional Court of Montenegro; Vojtěch Šimíček, a judge at the Constitutional Court of the Czech Republic (left to right)

    Dieter Hömig, a former judge at the German Constitutional Court; Stefan Pürner, IRZ; Desanka Lopičić, President of the Constitutional Court of Montenegro; Vojtěch Šimíček, a judge at the Constitutional Court of the Czech Republic (left to right)

  • Participants at the ceremony celebrating "Constitutional Court Day" with Minister Zoran Pažin and Ambassador Gudrun Steinacker (1st row, centre)

    Participants at the ceremony celebrating "Constitutional Court Day" with Minister Zoran Pažin and Ambassador Gudrun Steinacker (1st row, centre)

From 14 to 16 February 2016, a regional conference on the "judicial review of elections and voting regulations" was held by the IRZ and the Constitutional Court of Montenegro in Budva, Montenegro. The conference was attended by constitutional judges from the host country, as well as from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia and Slovenia. The topic for this event was chosen because of the parliamentary elections, which are due to be held in both Montenegro and Macedonia in 2016. This conference will therefore be followed up in April by another seminar on the same subject to be held at the Judicial Academy of Macedonia.

The speakers at the event held in Montenegro were Dr. Dieter Hömig, a former judge at the German Constitutional Court and the German-speaking judge at the Constitutional Court of the Czech Republic, Dr. Vojtěch Šimíček. They introduced the relevant German and Czech regulations and case law relating to these regulations.

Other speakers at the event were Elena Goševa, President of the Constitutional Court of Macedonia, Mirsad Ceman, President of the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Jadranka Sovdat, Vice-President of the Constitutional Court of Slovenia and Constitutional Judges Dr. Marko Babić and Mato Arlović from Croatia, Dr. Dragoljub Drašković from Montenegro and Predrag Ćetković from Serbia.

The purpose of the conference was to review elections and voting regulations. For the latter, it was pointed out, for example, that the Constitutional Court of Montenegro has in the past already overturned various voting regulations. One example of these is the rule stipulating that a party that had already been represented in parliament previously no longer had to produce supporting signatures for a new candidature. Another example concerns the regulation according to which support for the application of a presidential candidate had to be declared personally by two members of the election committee.

Following on from the intense professional part of the conference, a ceremony was held to mark Constitutional Court Day, with contributions from Minister of Justice, Zoran Pažin, and German Ambassador, Gudrun Steinacker, which highlighted the importance of the regional conference.

Germany and Montenegro sign a Working Schedule for a Cooperation Agreement

  • Secretary of State Dr. Stefanie Hubig and Minister Zoran Pažin after the signing

    Secretary of State Dr. Stefanie Hubig and Minister Zoran Pažin after the signing

  • Group photo with Secretary of State Dr. Stefanie Hubig (2nd from left), Minister Zoran Pažin (3rd from left) and Ambassador Gudrun Steinacker (2nd from right)

    Group photo with Secretary of State Dr. Stefanie Hubig (2nd from left), Minister Zoran Pažin (3rd from left) and Ambassador Gudrun Steinacker (2nd from right)

On 26 November 2015, State Secretary Dr. Stefanie Hubig and the Minister of Justice for Montenegro, Zoran Pažin, signed a working schedule for a cooperation agreement between the two ministries in Montenegro's capital Podgorica, in the presence of the German Ambassador Gudrun Steinacker. The event also received extensive coverage in the national media.

The agreement provides, amongst other things, for the further development of the collaboration with the Constitutional Court of Montenegro and with the country's centre of legal training. Support will also be provided for the newly formed special prosecution office in their efforts to combat organised crime and corruption.

The agreed additional measures follow on from the many years' of work carried out in these areas by the IRZ in Montenegro. Michael Haußner, a former Secretary of State, is also supporting the Ministry of Justice for Montenegro with a project that has been ongoing for several years and is funded by the German Federal Foreign Office from German funds allocated to the Stability Pact for South-East Europe. Michael Haußner used to be a permanent advisor to the Ministry of Justice in Croatia when the country was preparing to join the EU.

Secretary of State Dr. Stefanie Hubig also made the most of her stay in order to learn in situ about the many years' of successful work carried out by the IRZ in Montenegro. She also held extensive talks with Minister Pažin, the President of the Constitutional Court of Montenegro, Desanka Lopičić, and the Chairman of the Committee for Political Systems, Justice and Administration in the Montenegro parliament, Rifat Rastoder, to discuss the current legal requirements for preparing for future entry into the EU.

Regional constitutional court conference on freedom of speech and of the press in Montenegro

  • The German Ambassador to Montenegro delivering her welcoming speech (front left)

    The German Ambassador to Montenegro delivering her welcoming speech (front left)

  • Participants in the conference: Dr. Stefan Pürner, IRZ; Mirsad Ćeman, President of the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina; Desanka Lopičić, President of the Constitutional Court of Montenegro; Prof. Dr. Udo Steiner, a former judge at the German Federal Constitutional Court; Elena Goševa, President of the Constitutional Court of Macedonia (1st row, from left to right)

    Participants in the conference: Dr. Stefan Pürner, IRZ; Mirsad Ćeman, President of the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina; Desanka Lopičić, President of the Constitutional Court of Montenegro; Prof. Dr. Udo Steiner, a former judge at the German Federal Constitutional Court; Elena Goševa, President of the Constitutional Court of Macedonia (1st row, from left to right)

In our changing times, public and political debate is particularly important. This is guaranteed by freedom of speech and of the press. The relevant legal framework and the appropriate conduct of constitutional courts therefore play a central role here. With this in mind, the Constitutional Court of Montenegro and the IRZ organised a conference on freedom of speech and of the press, which took place from 29 to 31 October in Bečići and was attended by representatives of various constitutional courts in the region.

The conference was opened by the President of the Constitutional Court of Montenegro, Desanka Lopičić. The German Ambassador Gudrun Steinacker also gave a welcoming speech in the local language. She took the opportunity to play an active role in most of the conference.

The conference programme began with representatives of the participating Southeast European constitutional courts presenting the legal situation in their countries and the jurisdiction of their courts. This included reports from: Elena Goseva, President of the Constitutional Court of Macedonia, Mirsad Ćeman, President of the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Hamdija Šakrinović, a judge at the Constitutional Court of Montenegro, Dr. Sc. Mato Arlović, a judge at the Constitutional Court of Croatia, and Tomislav Stojković, a judge at the Constitutional Court of Serbia.

Professor Udo Steiner, a former judge at the German Federal Constitutional Court then gave an introduction to the principles of jurisdiction at the German Federal Constitutional Court concerning freedom of speech and of the press, using four selected cases. All of the contributions were the subject of intense discussions, during which participants were able to gain a deeper insight into the different legal contexts during the course of the event.

One of the findings was that constitutional courts in Southeast Europe are increasingly following the jurisdiction of the ECtHR and refer to this extensively. At the same time, their decisions - including those overturning judgements passed by the ordinary courts against journalists due to their critical reporting on politicians and their circles - reveal that this is a topic with considerable practical relevance and that it requires the constitutional courts to keep a close eye on things to ensure that the basic right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press is upheld in practice