'Building confidence in the justice systems in the South Caucasus'

There are still substantial deficits in criminal law

An interview with Rudolph Mellinghoff

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Rainer Kaufmann: The independence of the judiciary is guaranteed by the constitutions of all three Caucasus countries. Does this mean that it is already a reality?

Rudolph Mellinghoff: Major progress has been made. Nonetheless, from a German perspective, there are still some anomalies: for example, the president of a court can impose deadlines on a judge and can set a date by which legal proceedings must be concluded, with disciplinary measures for any overrun. Measures of this kind are hardly compatible with judicial independence. So there is still some way to go.



Professional exchange among practitioners is a more productive process than a theoretical academic debate about the problems these countries face.

What role can German judges play in the reform process?

Judges in other countries can maintain a dialogue with their colleagues in the Caucasus and follow the reform process. Professional exchange among practitioners is a more productive process than a theoretical academic debate about the problems these countries face.

Can we make German standards the sole benchmark?

We should be cautious about making our own perspective the starting point for the development of our ideas. There are many different ways of achieving judicial independence. The Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct establish a universal standard that safeguards the minimum level of judicial integrity and independence that is required – but they also allow for a variety of approaches.

The discrepancy between the progress made in the fields of civil and administrative law, on the one hand, and criminal law, on the other, is quite striking in the countries of the South Caucasus. How do you view the situation in the field of criminal law?

Criminal law is a very sensitive area – one where human and civilrights violations can easily occur. So it is essential to exclude any arbitrary elements from the criminal justice system. Criminal acts must be comprehensively investigated and the facts established, and any charges brought by the public prosecutor must be based on sound evidence. The sentence must be commensurate with the severity of the crime and the degree of guilt, and in sentencing, the same criteria must apply to all offenders. Compared with the situation in civil law, there are still very substantial deficits here.

 

Rainer Kaufmann conducted the interview. He has over 20 years of experience as a TV journalist, author and entrepreneur in the Caucasus. The interview was first published in the GIZ magazine akzente, issue 04/2011.