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Edward Ferguson

British Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina

Part of UK in Bosnia and Herzegovina

9th June 2015

A Magna Carta Moment

Like many things here in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the history of efforts to reform the justice sector is long and complicated. There have been important successes; there have been painful failures. There are many superb and honest judges and prosecutors in BiH, but there are also those who have betrayed the authority and trust that their positions represent. There is a lot of talk about ‘jobs and justice’, but still not yet enough action.

So how do we get beyond the soundbites, and achieve something that is meaningful and enduring? That will genuinely make a difference to the lives of ordinary people? Tackling the inequalities of a society where the rich get richer at the expense of the poor. Where the powerful enjoy apparent impunity from the law. Where the justice system is too slow, too incompetent or too corrupt to protect the most vulnerable.

800 years ago, in England, there was a seismic event that changed our country fundamentally and for ever. King John, corrupt and autocratic, was accountable to no-one. But he pushed his luck too far. His subjects turned on him, and forced him to sign up to a new system, where the monarch was subject to the law of the land. The document, arguably the most important legal document in history, would become known as the “Magna Carta”, the Great Charter.

The Magna Carta introduced constitutional government to England for the first time. It forced the King to accept certain fundamental values and principles: the right to a fair trial, to freedom from torture and to participation in political and religious life. It also regulated the setting of fish traps on the Thames River, but perhaps we can skim over that part!

What this boiled down to was an acceptance of the rule of law by those who had previously stood outside it. It introduced accountability for everyone, from the King downwards, no matter who they knew or how much money they had.

In my humble opinion, BiH needs a Magna Carta moment. It needs the political leadership to accept that they will no longer enjoy impunity. That they will stop using the judiciary as a tool to manipulate to their own advantage. That the practices of patronage and cronyism will end, and that judges and prosecutors will be appointed exclusively on the basis of their talent, experience and proven integrity. As King John agreed in the Magna Carta, “We will appoint as justices … only such as know the law of the realm and mean to observe it well.”

Last year’s protests offered a glimpse of the potential consequences should your political leaders fail to accept this challenge. History, both ancient and modern, teaches us that where there is marginalisation and inequality, then instability – and possibly conflict – will ensue. I believe that change is inevitable in BiH, and that if leaders fail to make tough choices, then the people will do it for them. So there is a lot at stake.

But even if the political will for reform exists, what then? Justice reform is a complicated business. It takes time. Unlike in King John’s time, understanding “the law of the realm” in the sense of purely domestic law is today insufficient. Judges and prosecutors may also have to understand and apply international law, like the European Convention on Human Rights.
The complexity and rapid development of modern law means that legal professionals need to be the brightest and the best, striving for the highest standards of integrity in both their professional and personal lives, willing constantly to research, to learn and develop themselves, and able to reach clear and cogent decisions on complex questions.

And justice reform cannot be separated out from the economic agenda. Adherence to the rule of law is top of the list when it comes to decisions by foreign investors. They need confidence that commercial disputes will be quickly and fairly dealt with. That their investments will be protected. That corruption will be punished. Without justice, the jobs that young people in this country need so desperately will remain an illusion.

And so, an increasingly vital part of my Embassy’s work is promoting the rule of law, because we believe that political competition, rule of law and free speech are essential pre-requisites for innovation and entrepreneurialism – and for the prosperity that flows from it. In other words, we believe that the rule of law, good governance and economic success are mutually reinforcing.

Our focus is on aligning BiH’s legal system with European standards and legislation, which is a pre-condition for future membership of the EU. We work with State and Entity-level institutions to improve their expertise and efficiency, so that more cases can be heard quickly and fairly. We have helped to develop strategies for tackling corruption – an issue that really matters to people. Through the Open Government Partnership, we are encouraging BiH to open up its institutions to public scrutiny. And we are trying to intensify cooperation at all levels of the criminal justice chain, including in the fight against terrorism.

The priorities of my government are the priorities of the people of this country. A huge challenge lies ahead. But if the political will exists, there is nothing that, together, we cannot achieve.

1 comment on “A Magna Carta Moment

  1. Sir,
    I just delivered complaint to main prosecutor of Kanton Sarajevo to begin fight against corruption and finantial support of terorism.AMONG police officers, prosecutors and some judges connected with criminals, those related to ISIL agents in BIH.

    It is so sofiiticated network that they even missused NATO financial support to some women judges in Sarajevo, precisely to judge ms Zahiragic , whose relative and former minister of JUSTICE of kanton Sarajevo, was SUSPENDED by former HR Peddy Eshdown , as distinguished supporter of radical islam. ANd who did change something in this lame country ? Mr Peddy !

    I hope you agree to support me. if in the next 8 days prosecutors in Sarajevo don’t start fight against financial support of terrorism, to put all suspected procesutors and police officers on the US Department of the treasury BLACK LIST as QUITE supporters of terrrorism. I will give you their names, positions ( pretty high) and of course PROOFS and connections. YOu wouldn’t beleieve that former FBiH premier Hadzipasic was a SHEIKH and financial supporter od radical islam.

    Hundreds of milions $ from BiH go after money laundring to the Near East instead to families of poor and jobless domestic people.


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