Message from the President

Tony Van Parys, president of the HCJ

Justice is not dead, Long live Justice!

It is now 17 years since the High Council for Justice came into being, its mandate being to depoliticise the careers of judges, to ensure improved operation of the judicial system and to work towards restoring citizens’ trust in the judicial institutions.  A tall order!

There was a time, not long so ago after all, when judges were political appointees

When the most senior members of the judiciary enjoyed tenure for life

When judges were expected to remain silent, their sole obligation being to give judgments

When youth, femininity and diversity were just starting to make an appearance

When training was dependent on personal initiative and goodwill on a judge’s part

When submissions and pleadings were submitted in paper format

When a backlog of court cases was considered to be inevitable

When management of a court and of a prosecution service was a matter of pot luck

When three different judicial districts could be found in a single province

When the only outcome for litigants who were unhappy at the way the justice system had treated them was to keep it to themselves and to dwell on the hopelessness of their situation, with no official body to investigate their complaints objectively

When the justice system lived in its ivory tower

When it was not accountable to anyone

When transparency was an unknown concept for it.


This look back – admittedly somewhat sombre – at the past testifies to the fact that justice is capable of making speedy and colossal strides forward, even when they were believed to be impossible.

The present actually allows us to see the extraordinary work carried out on a daily basis by lawyers, judges and their staff and the trust which citizens place in them.  

And yet it is relentlessly hammered home that “Nothing seems to work in the justice system any longer!”, that “Justice is in crisis”, “suffocating”, that “its independence has been put in jeopardy”, that it is “in its death throes”, and so on.

Criticisms and complaints are eternal.

They both have their raison d’être and their legitimacy.

Judges and lawyers cannot indeed be blamed for sounding the alarm when, in a constitutional state subject to the rule of law, the judiciary is disparaged, derided or neglected.  

There is a feeling of solidarity with litigants who protest vociferously when judicial proceedings have malfunctioned, when they have been faced with a negligent judge or a failing system.

The necessary vigilance does not, however, mean that it is unreasonable to believe that Justice deserves better than all the negative stereotyping of which it is the victim.

Aiming for excellence and being demanding does not dictate that the good and the perfect should be confused.

Perfectly understandable indignation does not preclude a preference for lucid and constructive optimism over chronic lamentation and dissatisfaction.

Nor does it preclude preferring to focus on individual and collective commitment, courage, curiosity and capacity for adaptation and invention, which are dormant or very much alive in each man and each woman who endeavours, day after day, to improve the justice system – instead of resistance, fear and procrastination.

These men and women have shown that they could successfully bring about reforms and changes; there is every reason to trust their ability to take up the many challenges which still await the justice system. 

The High Council, an independent external body, will also devote its time and energy to doing so throughout the year just started and, in addition to its traditional tasks (complaints, opinions, audits, investigations, selection of judges and other members of the judiciary),  it will pay very special attention to access to justice, to clear language, to the careers and future of tomorrow’s judges and, last but not least, to managerial autonomy, which provides a magnificent opportunity for a justice system which must now be autonomous, transparent, effective and productive.

It will do so by remaining mindful of citizens, by engaging in reflection and striving towards achievements, both internally, with its members and its administration, but also with the different players in the judicial world and in politics, showing a willingness to be open, in an atmosphere of respect and trust which it hopes will be mutual.  

It will continue to do so because … no, Justice is not dead! Long live Justice!


M. Clavie