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Reform of the state level judicial institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina

A two-day experts’ seminar in the framework of the Structured Dialogue on Justice took place in the EU House in Sarajevo. The exercise was organised to discuss current options for the reform of the state-level judiciary, with a particular focus on possible legislative options aimed at clarifying the criminal jurisdiction of the BiH Court and the Prosecutor’s Office of BiH. In order to maintain inclusiveness and to guarantee a thorough exchange, the meeting was open to participation of relevant members from the community of judicial practitioners, along with experts from line ministries, as well as executive representatives themselves. A targeted meeting with members of BiH and entities parliaments was also organised.

Two EU member states judicial practitioners from Germany and Italy reviewed the reform options presented in different drafts legislation. Comments and observations from judicial practitioners were also obtained. The European Commission representatives welcomed the renewed commitment by executive authorities to continue working on possible reform options and to fine-tune an optimal revised draft legislation that can gather due political consensus when finally entering the parliamentary adoption process.

Reference was also made to the importance of pursuing in these harmonisation efforts based on the following principles:

•    The issue of continuity of operations of the state-level judiciary through the completion of the reform process, as highlighted by the Venice Commission in its 2012 opinion, shall be duly respected while redesigning the features of the new institutions setting. This is expected to provide for the separation of the appellate section from the first instance, bringing about the establishment of the new separate appellate court at the state level.

•    The criminal jurisdiction of the state level judiciary in its current form remains to be clarified. This exercise represents the cornerstone of the reform process and shall be conducted by guaranteeing a mechanism that fosters legal certainty, predictability and the principle of the natural judge. Every citizen bears the right to rely on a judge pre-constituted by law. Current Margins of discretion and possible ambiguities for the attribution of criminal jurisdiction in BiH shall be overcome.

The drafting exercise shall continue as a matter of priority, reviewing the features of the current drafts, with the idea of reaching conclusive reform plan. The European Commission will transmit summary conclusions, along with further observations from the EU member states experts in the coming days.

The European Commission welcomed the readiness, shared amongst all domestic actors, to finalise the current work in a spirit of mutual understanding. The reform of the state level judiciary is a milestone that will bring BiH closer to the EU, while guaranteeing to all its citizens a more professional, impartial, independent and accountable judicial system. Achieving this reforms objective is also an integral part of the recently adopted Justice Sector Reform Strategy.