Heads of Judicial and Prosecution Councils, UNDP and project partners, ladies and gentlemen.
Norway has for several years been a strong supporter of rule of law, anti-corruption and human rights in Kosovo. Any nation that wants progress and a fair and free society should make rule of law priority number 1. The clear objective is an efficient, transparent, independent, and accountable legal system.
We are all looking forward to the completion of the functional review of the judicial system. Many have high expectations that the review will result in needed reform and further improvements in the judicial system.
However, the on-going efforts to improve work out “in the field”, cannot be stopped, waiting for the review to be completed and follow-up measures to be decided upon. There are plenty of so-called no regret measures that needs to be followed up in the meantime – measures that will be needed regardless of conclusions from the review.
Access to justice is for sure a key no regret issue. Here in Kosovo, you already have many robust legislation and regulations ensuring the citizens of Kosovo their rights. However, it is not enough that the citizens have rights, in case they cannot claim their rights. Good and lasting results depends on strong implementation. This is only possible if the mind-sets and organizational structures are updated alongside the reforms – otherwise compliance will be too weak. Sometimes more money is also necessary.
Implementation is also about consistency and consequence. Being in non-compliance with law and regulations should - ideally - always trigger a negative sanction for the individuals and legal subjects concerned. All experience shows that - no consequence, no result.
Access to justice is a key element in the overall efforts to implement laws and regulations. Access to justice may be undermined by several factors, such as a huge back-log in legal cases, lack of capacity and training among staff in the judicial system, lack of possibilities to settle a dispute out-of-court (such as mediation) and lack of access to free legal aid to poor people.
Regarding mediation, Norway has for several years financed – together with the Swiss and the Germans – the Mediation Center in Mitrovica. It still is, as far as I know, the only mediation center in Kosovo with a diverse management team and multi-ethnic network of around 50 licensed mediators. More than 800 cases have been solved so far, most of them referred from courts or prosecution.
Norway is also supporting a similar mediation project in Albania, to facilitate the implementation of the new mediation law in Albania. The activities will focus on supporting the development of the mediation system on a national level (including advise on sublegal acts and standards, support in the implementation of new legal framework, and curriculum development); it will also include professional exchange among government officials and mediation experts in Albania and Kosovo, as well as the establishment of mediation centres in Tirana and Durres.
So, a few words about the present review process. Norway welcomes the comprehensive review of the judicial system. One must first formulate a proper diagnosis and thereafter define the measures necessary to improve the system. Key objectives should be to:
- Ensure independence and integrity among judges and prosecutors. This must be combined with accountability and oversight of courts- and prosecution services.
- Ensure efficiency and quality, as well as addressing the issue of specialization, in other words: Should the general courts be supplemented by specialized courts of not?
- European standards and conventions should be the benchmark, nothing less.
I am glad that Kosovo itself is in the driving seat and have ownership to the process and the outcome. Strong political leadership to ensure progress and completion is essential. Otherwise, there may always be a risk that such a comprehensive process runs out of steam.
Finally, let me say that I believe the long-standing partnership between the Ministry of Justice, KJC and KPC, UNDP and several embassies, including Norway, - and not the least everyday efforts by judges and prosecutors out “in the field”, has helped to bring the rule of law agenda forward. The UNDP Access to Justice and Rule of Law project will, among other things, promoted capacity building, training and mediation. Norway´s intention is to remain a strong, long-term and committed partner also in the future.