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OSCE Mission to BiH launches Report on the Institution of Additional Judges

The OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) published today the report The Institution of Additional Judges as a Potential Threat to Judicial Independence in BiH.

Additional judges are usually appointed on a temporary basis, either to reduce case backlogs, or to replace a judge absent for a long time.

This report assesses the Institution of Additional Judges and systemic issues, identified by the Mission’s monitoring of the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council of BiH (HJPC) sessions. The report examines fundamental concerns relating to the independence of additional judges, due to the time limits of their mandates, the effects on case management, potential pressure on court presidents to request the appointment of an additional judge, and inconsistencies in decisions on their mandate extension. According to the report’s findings, the institution of additional judges has proven ineffective in reducing case backlog.  This presents a serious risk to judicial independence in BiH.

“The purpose of this report is not to merely underscore these inconsistencies and to offer a critique, but rather to support the HJPC in preserving and strengthening judicial independence,” said Kathleen Kavalec, Head of the OSCE Mission to BiH. “I hope this report will stimulate a broader policy and legal discussion on this crucial issue, including through discussion at one of the next sessions of the HJPC. There is currently a window of opportunity to reform this institution in the interest of judicial independence and respect for the rule of law, especially in light of efforts aimed at the adoption of an amended law on HJPC and justice sector reform more broadly.”

The report puts forward tailored recommendations to the HJPC and justice sector actors based on the Mission’s identified challenges, including: ceasing the practice of extending mandates of additional judges, prioritizing filling vacant positions for regular judges over appointing additional judges, and continuing to explore alternative means to address the case backlog through law, policy, or practice.

“The HJPC BiH has been co-operating with the OSCE Mission to BiH for many years and assisting us in analyzing the situation in the judiciary and finding solutions to improve the quality and efficiency of the judiciary in BiH. In this context, this report is welcome, especially in light of the reform proposals that the HJPC BiH intends to implement in the BiH judiciary. The report, which refers to additional judges, also states what we see in our practice, so this analysis will help us in the plans related to the selection and appointment of judicial office holders. The proposal of these measures that are planned to be implemented will be adopted by the end of April this year,” said Selim Karamehić, member of the Presidency of the HJPC.

“An independent, autonomous, accountable and efficient judiciary is a precondition for functioning rule of law. This report is a timely contribution, supporting the new High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council leadership in undertaking necessary actions that will accelerate judicial reforms in order to increase the institution’s credibility in the eyes of the public and the pace of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s EU integration. This will include implementing integrity-related amendments to the HJPC Law, once the current draft is adopted by the BiH Parliamentary Assembly,” says Johanna Strömquist, Ambassador of Sweden in BiH, representing the Swedish Chairpersonship of the OSCE.

The Mission will continue to provide support to the HJPC in preserving and strengthening judicial independence among judicial institutions in BiH.

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