Ambassador Maureen Cormack
President Tegeltija, Director Suljagic, ministers, fellow ambassadors, judges and prosecutors, distinguished guests:
A decade ago, when USAID first piloted the Case Management System in six Bosnian courts, there was widespread skepticism as to whether it would be adopted and used. While not a perfect system, today the judiciary uses it in all of its courts and prosecutors’ offices, and is completing its work to install the second generation of the system, which will improve case management further. So change and improvement is possible.
Today, any discussion of reform in Bosnia’s judiciary, as President Tegeltija mentioned, must be placed in the context of low public trust. If you go out on the street and ask any four Bosnians, at least three will tell you that the judges and prosecutors in their country cannot be trusted. They feel that their courts are slow, inefficient, and corrupt.
Where do those perceptions come from? Can they be traced to the influence of political parties? To the media? Or is there a real lack of accountability and effectiveness in the judiciary itself?
The Judicial Effectiveness Index – the JEI — that HJPC is launching today, with the help of USAID, will track progress on that last question—of judicial effectiveness. How old are cases in the judicial system? How efficient are courts in clearing their backlogs? That kind of data, combined with citizens’ perceptions, and the perceptions of judges and prosecutors themselves, can give a clear picture of progress—or the lack of it. It can also raise questions along the way.
Let’s look at a small slice of the Index findings. In any justice system, cases move from investigators to prosecutors, to trial courts, and then to appeals courts, with cases being dropped or resolved along the way. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, since 2012, prosecutors have cut in half their backlog of cases. That appears to be progress, but where did those cases go? The flow of cases to trial courts, their next destination, has not increased significantly. Are prosecutors making fewer indictments? If so, for what reasons? Those are the kinds of questions that the Judicial Effectiveness Index was designed to ask.
The value of the JEI is twofold— it raises questions, but it also makes the evidence and basis for those questions public. Everybody in Bosnia and Herzegovina can now know—if they want to know, and they should want to —how long it takes to resolve criminal cases, or civil cases,or commercial cases in the courts. They can point to gaps between public and professional opinions on the judiciary, which are huge. This kind of public scrutiny is a very positive step.
As US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously wrote, “sunlight is the best of disinfectants.” I’ve used this quote before, but it bears repeating because it is so true. I firmly believe that greater transparency increases public trust and confidence in the rule of law,which is essential for democratic development. That’s why the JEI is so important. It provides a tool for the HJPC, judicial officials, and prosecutors to embrace a process of constant self-examination, evaluation, and improvement.
Because of the way politics in Bosnia and Herzegovina works, it’s easy to forget that institutions are accountable to citizens. The HJPC, too, is accountable to citizens. I applaud their efforts today—it was a lot of work, even with our support—to build and launch the Judicial Effectiveness Index. An index, however, is just that—a way to measure things. By itself, it has no teeth. There must be a system—really, a culture— of accountability within the HJPC, a culture that makes judges and prosecutors “civil servants” in the most exact sense of that word. A system, in the end, that provides deterrents, and disciplines poor performance.
I therefore invite the HJPC to use this Index as its own management tool and help identify necessary reforms. USAID is committed to continuing to partner with HJPC to further analyze the data produced by the Index, and assist HJPC to develop and implement the needed reforms that these data help identify.
To implement such reforms, USAID’s Justice Activity provides specialized training and mentoring for Prosecutor’s Offices to help increase the number of indictments and conduct more efficient investigations of criminal cases, particularly cases of corruption and organized crime. USAID is also helping the HJPC improve the ways judges and prosecutors are appointed; how it manages complaints against prosecutors and judges for unethical behavior; and how Prosecutor’s Offices can more transparently communicate to the public. All of these measures can over time help build public trust in the rule of law.
The United States will support every step that the HJPC takes to strengthen its own accountability and integrity. The pace of judicial reforms in Bosnia and Herzegovina has been far slower than it should be. Politically motivated attacks on the judiciary continue. There have been no important, high-level convictions that have had a “signal effect” on the public. And more than a million and a half unpaid utility bill cases are unnecessarily clogging the courts, instead of being resolved outside of the court system.
All of that completely erodes public trust in the judiciary. Judges and prosecutors—you are responsible for rebuilding that trust. You have a duty to be independent and impartial, to oppose the pressures that are mounting on you. You work in environments in which you have been threatened and abused—there are many who want to see you fail, and others who want to buy your favors.
But if you are hesitant or risk-averse, if you give in to outside interests, if you allow yourself to be bribed to cancel cases, you forfeit — trust. Trust is the essential ingredient in a society governed by the rule of law. Today you take a positive step toward transparency as you measure and publish your own performance. Please stick to it, and use what you learn to improve your work and your institution.
The United States Government, and your European neighbors, will continue to challenge you to achieve true rule of law here in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but we will not require you to travel that road alone – we will support you along the way, because the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina deserve honest and transparent justice.