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Speeches and Interviews

Conference on Strategic Planning for the Judiciary

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Remarks by U.S. Ambassador John Tefft

Good morning. Justices, judicial experts and distinguished guests, Judge Breyer, I am pleased to be with you today at this very important and timely conference.

The events of the past few months have shown just how important a fair, independent and accountable judicial system is to the further development of Ukraine’s democracy. The lack of independent courts, or even the impression that courts are not free, undermines faith in the justice system. Whether through perceived unequal access to the courts or selective prosecution, a judicial system seen as unfair or politicized erodes people’s faith in institutions.

And this has a horrible impact on the international image of the country. In a globalized economy where emerging economies compete for foreign direct investment, the absence of an unbiased and efficient means of resolving disputes presents an unreasonable risk to investors and deters the foreign and domestic investment that is critical to Ukraine’s economic growth.

Thus, an independent and effective judiciary is also critical to Ukraine’s continued economic development. Make no mistake about this. Ukraine’s ability to stay competitive in today’s economy depends in part on having a free independent judiciary.

That is why the United States Government, through the U.S. Agency for International Development, is proud to support the Fair Accountable, Independent, and Responsible (FAIR) Judiciary Project in Ukraine. Through this project, we hope to support Ukrainian initiatives to facilitate the legislative, regulatory and institutional reform of judicial institutions in order to create a solid foundation for a more accountable and independent judiciary.

A strong and independent judicial system is not possible without a coordinated strategy and detailed implementation plan supported by judicial leadership and court personnel. It must also be vetted and agreed-to by a wide array of stakeholders, including civil society and ultimately, the public, if these reforms are going to be accepted, understood, and, most importantly, utilized by Ukrainian citizens.

The Council of Europe recognized the importance of planning for the judiciary when it enacted the Framework Global Action Plan for Judges in Europe in 2001. This action plan resulted in a series of opinions by the Consultative Council of European Judges (CCJE) that focused on strengthening the judiciary, enhancing the competence of judges and improving the administration of justice in line with the European Convention on Human Rights.    

Under the leadership of the Council of Judges and State Judicial Administration, Ukraine now has an opportunity to incorporate these international and European standards into a strategic plan for advancing the judiciary. Such a plan would reflect the vision that the judicial leadership and court administration have for the future of the judicial system in Ukraine. It is especially important in times of economic crisis and growing demand for higher quality courts to lay a path for the further development of the sector.

I commend your efforts to prepare a strategy for developing fair and accessible courts, as well as services that are responsive to the needs of the public – services that inspire the trust and confidence of Ukrainians from all walks of life.  No doubt this ongoing process in which you are engaged requires a great deal of courage and leadership from many people within the groups represented here today.  I’m sure we can all agree that major change is difficult, but the rewards of having participated in meaningful positive reform that can improve the lives of generations of Ukrainians cannot be understated.  

The U.S. is committed to Ukraine’s democratic development, including strengthening the rule of law, and will continue to stand ready to support Ukrainian-led reform efforts. Now is the time for meaningful reform.

I wish you a successful conference and a fruitful exchange of experiences and successes in advancing the development of the judiciary.

I thank you for your attention and your partnership.


Remarks by Honorable Judge Charles Breyer, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, Chair of the Committee on Planning (2009), Judiciary Planning Coordinator

It is a privilege and honor for me to be here with you today. I am particularly pleased to be a witness to your commitment to building a judiciary that has the respect of the citizens that you serve. The first question we must ask ourselves is how we accomplish this task. Let me give you an example from our experience in the United States. Public opinion polls demonstrate that over 70% of U.S. citizens respect the judiciary. When the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court was asked by a representative of the United Nations to account for this remarkable achievement, he stated that you have to start 500 years ago. It has taken the United States that long to develop a system which was borrowed from the British to achieve this level of success. With all traditions, even one that takes 500 years to establish, it is important to understand that tradition must be a living tradition. By living, I mean that the judicial system must reflect and be responsive to a changing world, to political realities, and to the needs of its citizens.

A strategic plan is essential to the tasks of making the judiciary a respected institution. 20 years ago the U.S. federal judiciary developed a strategic plan which was hundreds of pages in length and had nearly 1,000 suggestions.   It was in fact a wish list, unfiltered and unfocused. And like most wish lists, it included every little desire. Several years ago in light of concerns and diminishing resources, the judiciary developed a new strategic plan 17 pages long setting forth the core values of the judiciary and a strategy for implementing these goals.

You can well ask the question why the strategic plan is important. The answer to that question is that the judiciary plays a unique role in a democracy. Unlike the legislative and executive branches of government, the judiciary is not elected. Unlike the legislative branch, the judiciary does not have the power of the purse. Unlike the executive branch of government, the judiciary does not have the force to implement its decisions. The power of the judiciary rests solely upon the acceptance of its role by the citizens it serves. Therefore, without respect for its authority, it becomes powerless.

The issue then becomes how the judiciary gains respect. Its starts of course as the other branches of government, namely with the Constitution as a contract among the citizens to be governed in a particular way. The Constitution, however, is simply a written agreement: what is important is the implementation.  The ability of the judiciary to fulfill its constitutional role depends on implementation of a strategic plan. The successful implementation of this plan is of crucial importance in developing and respect for the judiciary.

The plan of course starts with recognition of the core values of the judiciary. For the U.S. judiciary there are six core values: rule of law, equal justice, judicial independence, accountability, excellence and service.

Let me further define those values. The rule of law requires judges to make reasoned decisions made through publicly visible processes. Equal justice relates to fairness and impartiality in administration of justice. And judicial independence is the ability to render justice honestly and without fear of loss of tenure or compensation. Accountability means that judges should adhere to stringent standards of ethical conduct and shall enforce those standards upon themselves. Excellence means that judges will be well trained and highly competent. Service refers to the task judges have to faithfully discharge their duties in accordance with the Constitution and the laws. These are core values upon which the judiciary is founded and to which there is general agreement. Every action affecting the judiciary should be measured against these core values. For example, the question of whether to make trials available to be viewed by the public should be considered in terms of public acceptance of the judicial process. The more public the process, the greater acceptance by the public. Many of the suggestions affecting the administration of justice will not be costly in terms of resources, but can be implemented in a way consistent with these core values. Thus, in times of limited resources, it is even more important to have a strategic plan for implementation of these values to achieve acceptance by the public. Finally, you should not be discouraged by the fact that it has taken so many years for the United States to develop respect for its judicial process. You will be free to borrow from us and others ideas that have developed over time. I am confident that you will be able to achieve respect for the judiciary by taking the steps necessary to implement the strategic plan. It is said that a journey of five hundred miles starts with one single step. You have taken that step today. Congratulations!