Transparency: Strategy without commitment

By: Emina Dizdarević

After almost six years of preparation period in regard with the Communication Strategy and waiting for its approval, in December last year, High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council (HJPC) BiH, accepted, approved and passed this particular document, which they ever since referred to as the „umbrella strategy “, due to emerging dilemmas on how to create and tailor this strategy for every single judicial community. Action plan was accordingly accepted in April this year.

When Strategy framework was accepted, experts did warn that all efforts could have been cancelled if this special document remains non – mandatory for all judicial institutions. It was additionally explained that the Council was not authorized to give instructions for judicial official authorities to deliver statements in public. Regardless to the fact that documents and guidelines that HJPC submitted to judicial institutions could not be treated and considered as clear and genuine instructions.

Sanela Gorušanović-Butigan, Council vice president, expressed hope that chief prosecutors and court presidents shall be using it. She stated this in August last year for Balkan Investigative Network in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BIRN – BiH). Namely, HJPC was not authorized to define and determine the ways of communications between judicial institutions and public, however, it had launched several activities in advancing this communication process.

Information availability

Similar situation occurred with Strategy reporting (during court procedures), as well as with previous strategy from 2014, as they failed to improve the communication patterns between judicial institutions and public, including media representatives.

“Basic reason for creating, tailoring and passing the Communication Strategy of HJPC included the establishing and developing of advanced, functional and two – way communication patterns and channels that should ensure and enable unobstructed information flow through mutual appreciation and respect of all parties involved in this process of communication”, states in Communication Strategy document.

By applying and implementing the Communication activities, awareness level of all parties involved should increase consequently, in regard with the functioning of judicial institutions in BiH and necessary requirement for further progress, advancement and conforming to EU standards, says in the Strategy document.

According to this document, it would be required to have full functionality between judicial institutions and general public, including all reform processes, challenges and limits (boundaries) that judicial institutions encounter on daily basis. It should also include the process of conforming to international standards, as well as available possibilities in order to have judiciary system moving into right direction of progress.

On the other hand, many international and non – governmental organizations, including European Commission but also Peer Review Recommendations, outlined the disadvantages regarding transparency in BiH Judiciary System.

Some goals of Communication Strategy managed to advance the communication system between the HJPC and judiciary institutions with legislative and executive governing levels, including media, general public and judiciary institutions users. Furthermore, advancing the availability of information, regarding the work of HJPC and judiciary institutions in BiH, has also been set up as the main goal to experts and wider general public.

It is important to highlight that Communication Strategy does not involve the Office or Disciplinary Counsel (in this particular process), whose lawsuits and decisions passed by disciplinary commissions were anonymised. Apart from this, the time table (schedule) of disciplinary hearings is also anonymised and the public thus is deprived of a possibility to see which holder of judiciary function would be appointed with disciplinary hearing procedure, despite the fact that court hearings are indeed available to public.

This kind of functioning unfortunately leaves an open pace for journalists to make mistakes during their reporting. The question on one hand, weather we consider and believe that lawsuits should be public (since they are considered public documents and should accordingly be available to general public), how come disciplinary lawsuits filed against judiciary function holders are not, on the other hand, available to general public either? Should media and representatives of international organizations have the opportunity and should they be allowed to follow disciplinary hearings, why are they then deprived of watching and finding about final outcomes at the hearings?

Namely, the Rules regarding the work of Second – Instance Disciplinary Commission, have been defined and determined by the HJPC Regulation of Work clearly stating that the decisions by this commission are available to parties (entities) within Counsel’s premises within 15 days from the day of passing or they may be submitted in a way precisely defined by the Civil Procedure Act.

During one of their sessions, HJPC were discussing and taking into consideration the request for free access to information and they consequently changed their previous decisions and passed the new ones allowing thus free access to anonymous issues and executive disciplinary decisions that had previously been rejected or dismissed as disciplinary lawsuits. However, in part of the decision that concerned full names of holders of judiciary functions, their names were to remain unrevealed and unexposed in public. This concerned those whose disciplinary procedures had been terminated by rejections or dismissals, pursuant to disciplinary lawsuits during the period between 2010 until the day when request was officially received.

European Commission Critics

Last report by European Commission, in regard with the progress in our country, stated that HJPC altered their internal rules concerning appointing procedure, including disciplinary measures and integrity standards; however, their inconsistent and non – transparent implementation has continued to prevent judiciary system from being genuinely independent and also resulted in losing general public trust.

Judiciary system still lacks transparency”, says in the Report.

According to Report’s recommendations, it is necessary to improve transparency in interaction with legal experts, media and public.

On the other hand, it is important to outline, that Prosecutors’ Office in BiH had, at the beginning of September this year and after long time, organized a press conference for media representatives. During May this year, HJPC organized a round table with media representatives covering the issue of strategy implementation, including the Action Plan that courts, prosecutors’ offices and media have been encountering and facing during reporting and regarding the functionality of judiciary system. It also included the discussion concerning best and most appropriate models of cooperation that would eventually contribute in quality – based informing of public, in relation with judiciary institutions work.

During Councils’ last meeting session in September this year, the members decided to accept the recommendation where the Framework of communication integrity plan shall become the Annex of HJPC Communication Strategy. The purpose of integrity plan has had an aim to increase the level of integrity ethic, including the improvement of communication channels and patterns within the judiciary system itself. As outlined, the Framework of communication integrity plan shall be conformed to Communication Strategy. Furthermore, Action Plan shall be submitted in the forthcoming period. As far as target groups of communication channels and patterns are concerned, both of the above indicated documents have been synchronised.

The document contains common and special part. Common part displays technical remarks, importance, document goal and way how it had been crated and tailored. Special part comprehends communication goals, target groups and it is mostly conformed to Communication Strategy.

The Framework of this plan was considered during 2021summer by the Council and it contained parts that related to polls that had been conducted in 2021 as well, and the outgoing information were accordingly updated for the year 2022.

In the end, we shall see how judiciary institutions and holders of judiciary functions shall obey Communication Strategy and what actions shall the HJPC take if the process fails.

(The author of this article is female journalist with Balkan Investigative Reporting Network – BIRN BiH)

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