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Promoting the Palestinian Judiciary: Consolidating Competence and Achieving Justice

Invited by the High Judicial Council (HJC), judges at regular courts met in the city of Bethlehem on 18 – 20 July 2008. Judges discussed the status of the Palestinian Judicial Authority and means to promote the judicial function. Due to prevalent political conditions, however, judges from the Gaza Strip could not take part in the Conference.
Following 3 days of discussion, the Conference concluded with the announcement of the following recommendations: 
(i) Developing HJC Strategies:
  1. Hold a regular judicial conference in order to keep pace with the latest judicial developments, review achievements and obstacles, devise necessary remedies, and allow judges to better communicate with one another.
  2. Judges should spend a full calendar year in their assignments, unless work conditions require otherwise.
  3. Establish proper courthouses that take into account future needs.
  4. Set up a public relations office and appoint a media spokesperson on behalf of the HJC. The spokesperson should possess relevant working experience as to highlight safeguarding judges' dignity.
  5. Examine feasibility of contracting corporations to specialise in summons service.
  6. Pay tribute to retired and deceased judges.
  7. Count judges' years of experience in the legal profession for purposes of seniority and retirement.
  8. Reconsider judges' scale of salaries to cope with the high cost of living, as well as provide benefits to judges in line with other institutions of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). 
(ii) Backlog of Cases:
  1. Approve proposed draft laws to amend certain provisions under the Law of Penal Procedure, Law on the Formation of Regular Courts, Law of Civil and Commercial Procedure, Law of the Judicial Authority and Law on General Amnesty, thereby contributing to tackling backlog cases.
  2. The Public Prosecution should not be represented in cases concerning misdemeanours.
  3.  Develop a written manual for management of litigation in conformity with legally prescribed rules.
  4.  Prepare strategic programmes or plans for the division of labour between judges (i.e. to train specialised judges in cases of labour, land settlement, sporadic registration, municipalities, juvenile justice, insurance, banking operations, etc.).
  5. Use and apply existing provisions related to judicial settlements, as is provided under the Law of Civil and Commercial Procedure No. 2 of 2001.
  6. Establish a committee that will follow up with the Draft General Amnesty Law, which the HJC has proposed and submitted to the PNA President.
  7. Continue automating the Department of Execution.
  8. Refuse interference by the Executive Branch in judicial activities, commenting on court judgments and intervention in judges' functions, including by the security and media agencies.
  9. Provide security to courts and judges.
  10.  Establish standing criminal panels that will adjudicate penal cases at all Courts of First Instance.
  11. Increase the number of judges in consistency with the number of courts throughout Palestinian districts.
  12. Provide places of residence to judges (a Judges' House) for those who sit outside their areas of residence.
  13. Extract the general principles of the final judgments of the Courts of Appeal and all judgments of the Court of Cassation, and the disseminate these to other courts for their review.
  14. Appoint researchers to assist judges to conduct, under judges' supervision, necessary legal research.
  15. Regulate the working relationship with civil society organisations in an institutional manner, while rejecting direct contact with judges and other acts that may compromise judicial independence.

(iii) Judicial Inspection:

  1. Preserve confidential information derived from the judicial inspection process, inform concerned judges, and give them a chance to respond to inspection reports.
  2. Appoint a number of judges to the Judicial Inspection Department so as to further promote and support the Department’s activities.
  3. Judicial inspection should be used as a tool to improve the performance of judges.
  4. Inspectors should not express their legal opinions, instruct judges, or make any remarks pertaining to the inspection. The Inspector's role should be restricted to recording observations in an objective and unbiased manner only.
  5. Competent authorities should utilise conclusions made through the inspection process to determine training themes and target groups.

(iv) Judicial Training:

  1. Continue activities of the compulsory orientation training for junior judges and consolidate them.
  2. Put in place continuing training for sitting judges on various themes and determine relevant target groups as occasion may require.
  3. Provide appropriate training for specialised judges as soon as these are appointed or assigned.
  4. Define training themes on the basis of a scoping study that identifies needs of target groups. In this course of action, judicial inspection reports and functions of the Technical Office should be examined. Trainees' opinions and suggestions, decisions of the Courts of Appeals, and new legislation all need to be taken into account as well.
  5. Train trainers, develop curricula that conform to selected training themes, highlight training techniques, and concentrate on applied learning and case studies in training modules.

(v) Technical Office:

  1. Appoint a sufficient number of judges and researchers at the Technical Office to assist in performing tasks. Judges from other Arab countries can also be consulted on an as needed basis.
  2. Connect the Technical Office's database to the Internet and develop a relevant webpage.
  3. Develop a database to accommodate all court judgements entered since 1952 and update it on a continuous basis.
  4. Publish and disseminate legal research papers, decisions of the Court of Cassation and final judgments of the Courts of Appeal.
  5. Establish libraries at courts that will house jurisprudence, legal references and legal resources in addition to electronic equipment to facilitate the research process.
  6. Develop a database for human resources and research expertise for judges and employ these in promoting functions of the Technical Office.

In conclusion, discussants stressed that the above recommendations should be adopted and that judicial conferences should be organised regularly. Participants extended their gratitude to those who contributed to make this Conference a success, particularly the HJC Chairman and board members, the judges’ community and HJC staff. Participants also expressed their appreciation to the staff of the Initiative on Judicial Independence and Human Dignity (KARAMAH) at the Institute of Law, Birzeit University, for their support of successful preparations for the Conference.