UN expert urges Tunisia to strengthen independence of judiciary by fully implementing the Constitution

By United Nations - Office of the UN High Commissione

GENEVA, Switzerland, December 10, 2014/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- United Nations Special Rapporteur Gabriela Knaul called* on the Tunisian authorities to adopt the legislation needed to implement the provisions of the 2014 Constitution guaranteeing the independence of judges, prosecutors and lawyers, in full consultation with representatives of the judiciary and other relevant parties.

Ms. Knaul's appeal comes at the end of her first information-gathering visit to Tunisia as the independent expert designated by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor and report on the independence of judges and lawyers worldwide.

“The achievements of the Tunisian Constitution related to the justice sector need to be translated into reality,” Ms. Knaul said. “This should be done within the timeframe stipulated in the Constitution, which means that the Supreme Judicial Council should be set up by April and the Constitutional Court by October 2015.”

“The judicial system must enjoy real administrative and financial independence, as well as be provided with appropriate human and material resources to ensure improved conditions and methods of work that are conducive to the exercise of the courts' fundamental functions,” the expert stressed.

The Special Rapporteur noted that the law should clearly specify the number of members of the Supreme Judicial Council, their appointment procedure and the term of their mandates. “The law should also set out fair, transparent and objective criteria and procedures for the selection, appointment, and promotion of judges and prosecutors,” she said.

On the issue of accountability of the judiciary, Ms. Knaul was concerned about the “chilling effect” on the judiciary as a whole of the unilateral decision by the Ministry of Justice in May 2012 to summarily dismiss en masse more than 80 judges and prosecutors.

“A code of conduct or ethics for judges should be put in place that clearly sets out reprehensible behaviour and respective sanctions, to tackle the issues of accountability, and corruption in the judiciary,” she highlighted.

The human rights expert encouraged the Parliament to continue improving the legal framework which should be reformed in accordance with international human rights law and principles.

In that regard, she recalled that a person placed under arrest should be immediately informed of his or her rights and have access to a lawyer to represent him/her, as enshrined in the Constitution. “However,” she pointed out, “in the Code of Criminal Procedure a person is allowed to consult a lawyer only after being brought before an investigative judge and not during the crucial period of pre-trial detention.”

During her nine-day visit, the UN independent expert travelled to Tunis, Nabeul and Grombalia, where she met with representatives from the Government and members of the National Constitutive Assembly, as well as judges, prosecutors, and lawyers. She also met with representatives from civil society, academia, UN agencies and other inter-governmental organizations.

Based on the information collected during the visit, the Special Rapporteur will prepare a report to be presented to the Human Rights Council in June 2015.

(*) Check the Special Rapporteur's end-of-mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=15387&LangID=E