The division of power between the legislator – represented by ‘the political’ – and the judge – represented by ‘the legal’ – is a centuries-old dilemma. The question on which position both powers take in the constitutional context is an everyday reality for the (constitutional) lawyer. The balance between these powers often turns into a tense relationship – a tension that becomes especially tangible after courts important judgments, such as the Urgenda case. Cases seem increasingly to end up in court because politicians have no answer to the issues at hand. If in such a case a court makes a decision, then politicians are eager to emphasise that the court has illegitimately taken up the role of the democratically elected legislator and that it is up to the people to make a decision; not the court. The question, however, is whether this criticism is always justified. Do politicians indeed try to protect the institutional balance as set out in the Constitution? Or do they act as sore losers, looking for a scapegoat for their own failure? Continue reading
The #metoo campaign has once again shown what social media are capable of: stirring a worldwide debate on important issues for people and society and questioning power structures that are not or cannot be put on trial in the same way in traditional media, politics and courts. But also: destroying reputations, careers and relationships, creating large-scale gossip and speculation and forcing people to their knees who know that there is no chance to defend themselves against the storm unleashed by this puny but unassailable mark.
At the same time, human rights treaties not only state that the human body is inviolable, but also stipulate innocence until proved guilty. But what good does this? People are groped involuntary on a massive scale and at the same time people are subjected to a rhetoric of naming and shaming without due process. In this blog, I argue that the presumption of innocence has been neglected wrongfully by lawyers and that now is the time to let it live up to its expectations, also with regard to the media. Continue reading
The European Commission has a justice policy which involves all national judiciaries, whose functioning is monitored. However I argue that this monitoring is done unsatisfactory. Justice is an important subject in the European Union. For example, trade and crime do cross borders and economic competition contracts and regulations need the guarantee of enforceability. It is obviously unavoidable that a lot of European law is involves regulation and law enforcement. National judiciaries play an important role in the enforcement of EU-law. And it seems perfectly justified that the European Commission monitors the functioning of those national judiciaries. The monitoring of that function is done through the so-called Justice Scoreboard. This Justice Scoreboard, however, is a methodologically inadequate device to evaluate the functioning of national justice systems. The main problem of the Justice Scoreboard is that the data it is based on are overall not reliable and based on nationally – differently! – defined statistics. Consequently, national numbers cannot adequately be compared, which leads to a misleading presentation of the data in bar charts. Continue reading
The dynamics of contemporary conflicts reveal the difficulties inherent in countries transitioning from conflict to peace and has given birth to transitional justice. The latter is the field of study where justice is not relegated to criminal or retributive justice only but to a holistic range of processes, the ambit of which includes accountability, truth recovery and reconciliatory processes. Kofi Anan former UN Secretary General defines transitional justice as the “ full set of processes and mechanisms associated with a society’s attempts to come to terms with a legacy of large-scale past abuse, in order to secure accountability, serve justice and achieve reconciliation.” In keeping within these processes and within this framework, particularly with regard to Africa, there has been resurgence in the use of traditional or local justice mechanisms. In this blog I will thus briefly attempt to highlight the political contingencies that certain states face, which catalyze the use of traditional justice mechanisms and make it so popular within the African transitional justice landscape. I will contend that in some instances traditional mechanisms can adequately address massive human rights violations and establish peace and reconciliation in post-conflict settings. I suggest that the value of traditional justice within politically laden contexts is that they act as catalysts for the promotion of unity. They draw on cultural and religious linkages of interconnectedness that are of value to many African societies, such as the way in which ubuntu was ingrained in the TRC process and the traditional strands of Gacaca conformed into a modern version of Gacaca. This therefore, arguably creates a more “culturally familiar and socially secure” space for people to participate in. Continue reading
Trials in China largely consist of written documents collected in a dossier rather than in oral debates. This perception and administration of (criminal) justice is deeply entrenched in China’s legal culture, which can be well illustrated by China’s peculiar terminology on (criminal) trial. Continue reading
In the May 16th edition, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung lets us have it right between the eyes: ‘Is the ECJ ruling justified?’. This question, enclosed in a polling-feature, regarding Opinion 2/15 on the EU’s powers to conclude the EU-Singapore Trade Deal, is intriguing – perhaps even revolutionary. Probably for the first time, a European newspaper included internet polling to shed light on the public debate over ECJ decision making. Such a ‘popular judicial culture poll’ works two ways. It is not only a useful public opinion indicator, it also encourages readers to think about the European Court of Justice (ECJ) not as some alien institution but rather as part of the national public debate. As I will argue in this blog post, this popular judicial poll is one of the most recent ‘bottom-up’ signs of alignment between European judicial cultures, that is, the ideas and practices regarding judging and judicial organisation which have developed over time.
Again, as a result of the recent terrorist attack in London, members of the Muslim community are increasingly being portrayed as ‘different': they are painted as religious fundamentalists who cannot separate politics from religion; who treat women as being inferior to men; and who offer the cold shoulder to LGBT. There are calls for the banning of certain orthodox Muslim religious organisations; the exclusion of religious symbols from public life; the constitutional entrenchment of ‘our values'; and the active ‘integration’ of Muslims into mainstream society. During his 2011 speech before the Munich Security Conference then Prime Minister Cameron called for replacing the passive tolerance of recent years by a much more active, muscular liberalism: “A passively tolerant society says to its citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone. It stands neutral between different values. A genuinely liberal country does much more. It believes in certain values and actively promotes them.” Continue reading
Radicalization and associated issues such as extremism and terrorism are important problems in our world. Various radical belief systems are associated with the problems of radicalization, extremism, and terrorism. These belief systems include extreme Muslim beliefs as well as radical right-wing and left-wing beliefs. Due to its importance and complexity, I am currently writing a book on why people radicalize. The book, to be published in 2018 by Oxford University Press, aims to provide an accessible, advanced, and up-to-date assessment of what is going on inside people’s heads with respect to fairness issues and radicalization. The book reviews several instances of radicalization and theories of radicalization. The book also introduces a framework to understand radicalization. In developing this framework I propose that perceived unfairness is a key antecedent of various radicalization processes, especially when these perceptions are combined with uncertainty or other threats and with insufficient correction of self-centered impulses. Continue reading
The 14th Asian Law Institute conference was hosted by the College of Law of the University of the Philippines from 18 to 19 May 2017 in Manila. Qiao Cong-rui, Julie Fraser, and Niu Ming, PhD Candidates and researchers with the Montaigne Centre, participated in the conference. The conference brought together academics and professionals from Asia and the world to discuss issues related to the theme “A Uniting Force? – ‘Asian Values’ and the Law.” Over 100 papers were presented relating to this theme, addressing a wide range of legal fields including commercial law, constitutional law, criminal law, and international law. The conference was divided into six sessions and comprised 36 panels. Academics and professionals contributed to the discussions concerning the concept of ‘Asian values’ by looking at legal and institutional arrangements or systems of key Asian countries.
Human rights cases often concern politically sensitive matters. An example is the case the European Court of Human Rights decided two weeks ago on the Beslan hostage taking drama. In 2004, about 800 children and 300 of their parents were taken hostage in a school in Beslan, Russia, and were held in the school building under very harsh conditions. Several of the male hostages were executed in full view of the children. After unsuccessful negotiations with the hostage takers, the authorities decided to storm the school and end the siege. Much is unclear about what happened, but some powerful explosions occurred, killing dozens of people, and a fire broke out, which killed even more children and their parents. Over 330 people lost their lives and hundreds more were wounded. Not satisfied with the way in which the authorities responded to the occurrences, some of the victims and their relatives approached the European Court of Human Rights and asked it to examine if the Russian authorities had done enough to protect their lives and safety. Given the context of terrorism and civil strife in the North Caucasus, the case was of tremendous political sensitivity. Moreover, the facts were disputed and it was far from clear who should be considered to bear primary responsibility for the killing of so many children and their parents – the terrorists or the Russian authorities. Clearly, thus, this is an extremely hard case for the European Court of Human Rights to decide, and the question may arise what approach it should choose in dealing with it. Continue reading