We have initiated a new project in which we will publish a series of brief interviews with prominent European lawyers, academics and executives of judges’ associations. Our first interview was with Adv. Francesco Caia, who is the Coordinator for Human Rights and International Relations of the Italian National Bar Association (CNF) and Vice-President of the International Observatory for Endangered Lawyers.
Our second interview with Mr Manuel Soares who is president of the Union Association of the Portuguese Judges (Associação Sindical dos Juízes Portugueses). The ASJP is the champion on protecting the independence of the judiciary in Europe. According to some scholars the ECJ’s judgment in the case filed by ASJP is arguably one of the most important judgments as regards the principle of the rule of law in the EU legal system.
Q1: The independence of the judiciary and lawyers exists to ensure the right to a fair trial of individuals. It is not a class privilege. How can we better explain this to fellow citizens?
Mr Soares: In all political systems, people know the essential importance of judicial independence and know that it is not a privilege of its professionals but a guarantee given to the citizens. The problem is that this concern is not always at the top of the list. The ordinary citizen prefers economic stability and security. Dictators and populists take much advantage of this human characteristic. Unfortunately, judicial independence only rises to the top of the agenda in times of economic difficulty or insecurity, when people feels that politicians want to act against the law to remain in power or to illicitly enrich themselves.
Q2: As the COVID19 pandemic poses an imminent and severe risk to the lives of individuals and society in general, many countries have declared a state of emergency and introduced emergency measures.Could you share your observations as to the state of emergency measures? For instance, were those introduced in Italy proportionate? In your opinion, is there a risk that these emergency regulations may become the new “normal”?
Mr Soares: From what I have seen, most countries have approved emergency measures that are proportional to the risk and appropriate to the objective of preventing its spread. However, in other countries, such as Hungary, the crisis was used politically to strengthen the power of authoritarian and populist governments. It is too early to see whether this consequence is long-lasting or temporary. But we always return to the same idea: people prefer security to justice.
Q3: My last questions are about Turkey. As a president of a professional body who has great insight into the human rights situation in Turkey, especially relating to the lawyers and the legal profession as a whole, what would you like to say to our European colleagues as to how they could help their Turkish colleagues?
Mr Soares: The unfounded and illegal imprisonment of thousands of people, including legal professionals, but also of intellectuals, journalists and teachers, of all people who could have a key role in educating the population and in defending the law and the constitution, it is an unacceptable shame for Turkey and for the international community. Turkey’s political leadership knows this very well and also knows that dictatorships are not eternal and that they will end up in disgrace one day. This is inevitable. Therefore, it is important for the international community to keep this issue on the agenda, not only to create political pressure on the Turkish authorities, but also to keep the democratic hope alive in the minds of the millions of Turkish citizens who do not agree with the violations of the rule of law.
“Turkey’s political leadership knows this very well and also knows that dictatorships are not eternal and that they will end up in disgrace one day. This is inevitable.”
– Manuel Soares, Associação Sindical dos Juízes Portugueses.
European judges have never forgotten Turkish colleagues and their families and will never stop fighting for their freedom and dignity.
Q4: In 2018, in a conference by the German Bar Association an academic said Turkey and ECtHR either would fail or arise together? How do you see the ECtHR and the Council of Europe’s attitude on Turkey? There is a severe disappointment towards the ECtHR in Turkey.
Mr Soares: I do not know the details of the relationship between Turkey and the ECtHR. The ECtHR, as an institution of the Council of Europe, is in a difficult position, as it has to reconcile the application and interpretation of the Convention in the light of the specificities of all member countries. But the ECtHR cannot turn a blind eye to glaring illegalities. If it does so, will be denying its role, betraying the trust it has built up over the years and condemning itself to unbelief and irrelevance. ECtHR existed before Turkey’s current dictatorial power and will endure after its end. Crises are transitory, but what is right must be permanent and stable.
– Manuel Soares, Associação Sindical dos Juízes Portugueses.
… the ECtHR cannot turn a blind eye to glaring illegalities. If it does so, will be denying its role, betraying the trust it has built up over the years and condemning itself to unbelief and irrelevance. ECtHR existed before Turkey’s current dictatorial power and will endure after its end. Crises are transitory, but what is right must be permanent and stable.
Q5: In December 2019, the European Council adopted a human rights sanction regime. Can it produce accountability to some extent for those responsible for gross human rights violation and help to improve the situation in Turkey?
Mr Soares: It is too early to be very optimistic. It would be very important that the EU would be able to create mechanisms for condemnation and sanctioning in cases of serious human rights violations. Unfortunately, however, in the EU, as in our countries, the pragmatism of real-politics often fails to do what is right. Countries have conflicting interests and it is not easy to define common policies. Let us hope that the future will bring a stronger and more influential Europe, but we cannot be sure of that.