On 6 June, 2016, Vaša Prava BiH (VPBiH) and the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to BiH hosted a forum on Rule of Law and Access to Justice in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The forum aimed to facilitate dialogue between actors across the spectrum of the justice system in BiH, as well as allow participants from outside BiH to highlight their struggles and successes in implementing effective legal aid procedures outside BiH.
The conference opened with remarks by Mr Emir Prcanović, Executive Director of VPBiH, on the concept of access to justice as a broad commitment towards having ordinary and vulnerable people having their voices heard, exercising their rights, challenging discrimination, and holding decision-makers accountable. Mr. Prcanović highlighted the importance of developing an efficient and harmonized system of legal aid within BiH.
Following Mr. Prcanović‘s opening remarks was a keynote address by Ambassador H.E. Jurriaan Kraak, Ambassador of the Netherlands to BiH. In his speech, Ambassador Kraak emphasized the importance of an effective system of access to justice in ensuring citizens the full enjoyment of their rights and freedom, and acknowledged that “Rule of Law” as a concept cannot be fully implemented unless access to justice is provided to all citizens on fair, impartial basis. Ambassador Kraak also reiterated the support of the Government of the Netherlands in supporting VPBiH’s Project “Strengthening and Promoting the Establishment of Access to Justice in BiH.” Lastly, Ms. Ružica Jukić, from the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council of Bosnia and Herzegovina, outlined current practices regarding legal aid in BiH.
The first panel – Enhancing the Rule of Law and Access to Justice in BiH: Recent Developments – was meant to focus on JSRS Pillar 3 goals and achievements, as well as the draft law on legal aid in BiH. Unfortunately, representatives from the government of BiH failed to attend the conference, including those invited from the Ministry of Justice BiH, the Supreme Court of the Federation of BiH, and the Joint Committee for Human Rights of the Parliamentary Assembly of BiH.
Following, the conversation moved towards international and regional experience in implementing legal aid. Mr. Vladimir Petronijević, from Grupa 484, discussed access to justice and the development of legal aid in Serbia. Following was a presentation by Mr. Dusan Sabić from Open Society Foundation Serbia on access to justice as an aspect of the Sustainable Development Goals. Ms. Elena Georgievska, Macedonian Young Lawyer’s Association, discussed limitations on access to justice in Macedonia. Lastly, by teleconference, Mr. Peter can den Biggelaar, Executive Director of the Legal Aid Board in the Netherlands, described the Netherlands’ mixed private-public model of legal aid, and the vital role of balance between protecting rights and providing services.
The final panel focused on how to improve access to justice and facilitate process for people in need of legal assistance. Mr. Vehid Šehić, Citizens Forum Tuzla, decried the current lack of accountability in the justice system. Ms. Zikreta Ibrahimović, Deputy Representative of BiH before the ECtHR, discussed the role of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights and its application in facilitating access to justice. Closing this panel was Mr. Nedim Kulenović, a legal expert at Vaša Prava BiH, who discussed ways with which access to justice can be improved and strengthened in BiH, including by creating a more uniform system of laws to encourage equitable access to justice.