Bolch Judicial Institute
Duke Law School
In 2017, four Polish lawyers were brainstorming ways to convince the public sector that an independent Polish judiciary was important, not only an “abstract nicety but the firm ground underpinning democracy.” Instead of drafting legal papers and articles, the team came up with a “crazy idea” — to write, direct, and produce short films in the style of famous romcoms (theguardian.com). The legal team, which organized into the “Wolne Sądy,” or the Free Courts initiative, says the videos were just the beginning of a legal journey to promote and protect the rule of law. The rule of law and judicial independence in Poland remain under serious threat (judicature.com).
The European Court of Justice (EJC) advocate general said that a law linking EU payouts to the rule of law (politico.eu) was legally sound, despite pushback from Poland and Hungary. The law, first enacted in December 2020, requires that EU member nations maintain an independent judiciary or other institutions to investigate corruption “without fear or favor.” The recommendations of the advocate general are typically followed by the EJC (theguardian.com), which is expected to issue a final ruling in early 2022.
Judge Tarek Bitar, a Lebanese judge overseeing investigations into last year’s catastrophic port explosion in Beirut (nytimes.com), has survived repeated attempts by government factions to remove him from the case. Judge Bitar’s efforts to question three ministers about their negligence in the tragedy were repeatedly denied, and the ministers sought to remove Judge Bitar for partiality. In October, the Lebanese court of cessation ruled that Judge Bitar’s investigation could proceed (reuters.com).
The International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Karim Kahn has closed an investigation into Colombia (colombiareports.com) for crimes against humanity. According to Kahn, President Ivan Duque’s commitment to supporting a war crimes tribunal allowed him to end the investigation that began in 2004. The move was criticized by Jose Miguel Vivanco, director of Human Rights Watch, for being “premature and counterproductive.”
Marc Pierini, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, argues that the European Union should reaffirm its rule-of-law principles (carnegieeurope.eu) with Turkey. According to Pierini, Turkey has eroded its rule-of-law architecture and imposed a highly selective agenda with the EU, restricted to matters of trade, investment, counterterrorism, and migration. The rule of law has become a “no go” area in its dialogues with the bloc. “This is an issue of utmost importance, because accepting Ankara’s selective agenda actively undermines the EU’s core values and principles,” he writes.
The next hearing for 47 pro-democracy campaigners arrested in Hong Kong has been postponed until March 2022 (reuters.com). The campaigners were arrested last year for promoting a nonbinding, unofficial primary election for Hong Kong’s city leaders, which authorities said was a “vicious plot” to overthrow the Chinese government. Their arrests are among 150 that come after Beijing imposed a national security law on Hong Kong. The trial is being closely watched amid mounting concerns over Hong Kong’s judicial independence, which has been viewed as a key to the city’s financial success.