IFES Election Dispute Resolution: Judicial Authority and Independence Conference; Conference Transcripts and Proceedings of Conference held in Sofia, Bulgaria on 25-27 April 2002
In response to the need for establishing more transparent, efficient, and consistent procedures for resolving election disputes in the countries of the former Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe, IFES, with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), hosted a regional conference entitled "Election Dispute Resolution: Judicial Authority and Independence" on 26- 27 April, 2002 in Sofia, Bulgaria.
Participants included Supreme Court and Constitutional Court justices from Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Georgia, Latvia, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, and Ukraine. In addition to the participants, international experts on the rule of law and election dispute resolution were also included in order to share their knowledge and experiences. These experts represented governments, international organizations, and non-governmental organizations such as the United States Court of Federal Claims, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Department for International Human Rights (ODlHR), the Council of Europe, the American Bar Association Central and Eastern European Law Initiative (ABAICEELl), and United States Agency for International Development.
Throughout the history of IFES activities, conferences have demonstrated that sharing information in this type of forum on topics which affect the entire region helps constituents to clearly define the problems faced and consider feasible suggestions for improving the situation. The conference in Sofia concentrated on giving judges a better understanding of their roles and responsibilities in the electoral process in the hopes that they would become more competent, confident, and impartial in considering cases. The conference provided guidelines for solving pre-election and election disputes based on international standards and election rules specific to cases that have come before the European Court of Human Rights. The focus of the conference was to provide a comparative analysis of the mechanisms of countries in transition and to consider how the judicial authority can improve the implementation of democratic rights and foster electoral independence.
In many of the countries of the former Soviet Union, and Central and Eastern Europe, the judiciary is in the process of establishing its credibility as an independent body. Election dispute resolution is a key area of conflict between the three branches of government. If courts succumb to political pressure, or influence of any kind, in electoral disputes, then their credibility and independence are likely to be undermined in other areas. Although judges may be primarily motivated by self interest when they yield to pressure, their lack of knowledge and understanding of how these issues are handled in other countries or of how they could or should be resolved in their own countries also contribute to their willingness to bow to pressure. Therefore, IFES hoped to create a forum where judges could exchange ideas and learn how similar issues are addressed in other countries.
The first day of the conference was moderated by Robert Dahl, IFES/Indonesia Legal Advisor, and former assistant to a member of the United States Federal Election Commission. The day was centered on the theme of Election Dispute Resolution. There were numerous panel presentations on international change and country-specific cases as well as ample time for questions and plenary discussion.
The second day of the conference, moderated by Keith Henderson, IFES Senior Rule of Law Advisor, addressed the issue of judicial independence and authority. An increase in participation and exchange of ideas was encouraged by the formation of two working groups, each addressing an issue relevant to judicial independence and authority. One working group, moderated by Victoria Airgood of ABAICEELI discussed judicial immunity; and the second working group, moderated by Robert Dahl, discussed ethical issues of business interests, income and asset disclosure. The second day also contained panel presentations on judicial conduct, ethics and standards and plenary discussion of the conference findings.
The overarching goal behind the Adjudication conference was to strengthen the rule of law in the electoral process and the development of democratic societies in the region through achievement of four objectives:
- Providing an opportunity for judges to exchange ideas and learn about international trends and various methods of resolving electoral disputes;
- Familiarizing judges with their role in the electoral process, particularly in regards to time constraints for consideration of election-related cases, so they are better prepared and more willing to meet their responsibilities;
- Identifying common legislative and procedural flaws that are perceived to hinder the efficient and fair resolution of election disputes; and
- Recommending general steps to take towards improving the transparency, efficiency, and consistency of procedures for resolving election disputes.
The following pages provide an overview of the conference findings as well as transcripts of the conference proceedings.