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Justices from the Constitutional Courts of Georgia, the Republic of Lithuania, the Republic of Moldova, and Ukraine examined threats to the rule of law in the context of regional challenges

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On 25–26 October, Vilnius hosted an international conference of constitutional judges – the Vilnius Forum. The presidents and justices of the Constitutional Courts of Georgia, the Republic of Lithuania, the Republic of Moldova, and Ukraine took part in it. The event was organised in the framework of the project “Assistance to the Constitutional Courts of Georgia, the Republic of Moldova, and Ukraine in Ensuring the Implementation and Protection of the Principles of the Rule of Law in the Context of Regional Challenges”, which was financed under the Development Cooperation and Democracy Promotion Programme of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Lithuania. The members of a delegation from the Constitutional Tribunal of the Republic of Poland attended the conference as guests.

The Constitutional Court of the Republic of Lithuania implemented this type of a project for the second time. The aim of this project was, by sharing experience gained by the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Lithuania, to enhance the role of the constitutional justice institutions of the Eastern Partnership countries – Georgia, the Republic of Moldova, and Ukraine – in ensuring the implementation and protection of the principles of the rule of law.

Having met in Vilnius a year before, the participants of the project defined the most urgent issues confronted by the Constitutional Courts of Georgia, the Republic of Lithuania, the Republic of Moldova, and Ukraine. After a questionnaire had been prepared on the basis of these issues, the participants of the project provided their answers to it. Therefore, according to the President of the Constitutional Court of Lithuania, Dainius Žalimas, the two days of the Vilnius Forum were devoted to discussion of all relevant issues on the basis of the experience of all the Constitutional Courts participating in the project.

“It is very important that we, working together in this project, could identify the problems we had faced in our work and could jointly seek solutions. At the Vilnius Forum, a comprehensive analysis of challenges to the independence of constitutional courts based on our experience was presented, as well as the jurisprudence related to the interpretation of the constitutional principle of responsible governance and response to the use of democratic standards against democracy,” said the President of the Constitutional Court of Lithuania, Dainius Žalimas.

The independence of constitutional courts is not only one of the essential principles of a democratic state under the rule of law. As this issue continues to be relevant to many countries, it was also among the topics of the Vilnius Forum. Another topic addressed at the conference was the principle of responsible governance. According to the principle of responsible governance, it is essential that all state institutions act while being conscious of their responsibility and adopt duly substantiated and fair decisions. In addition, the justices of the Constitutional Courts shared experience about how freedom of expression is guaranteed in the constitutions of the respective countries, how this freedom is interpreted in the jurisprudence of the Constitutional Courts, and how it is ensured in the lives of the states. Representatives from the Constitutional Courts, when filling in the above-mentioned questionnaire, had indicated the use of democratic standards against democracy as one of the issues of major concern. As, at times, there may also be attempts to use direct democracy institutions against democracy, this issue is especially relevant when it comes to freedom of expression and the way it is guaranteed in the national constitutions, interpreted in the jurisprudence of the constitutional courts, and ensured in the lives of the states. Therefore, this topic was also discussed at the sessions of the Vilnius Forum.

The participants of the Vilnius Forum were presented with a publication containing the reports of all the participants of the project, the experience (doctrine) of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Lithuania on selected topics, the most relevant jurisprudence of the partners of the project, and an overview of their case law.

As Georgia, the Republic of Moldova, and Ukraine have been implementing important and complex reforms matching the course of European integration, the need of the constitutional courts of these countries to cooperate more actively in the area of the implementation and protection of the principles of the rule of law provided the main incentive to carry out such a project.

The project was implemented on 1 November 2018.