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Transcript: Iraqi Judges at the Hague

Press availability following Conference on the Rule of Law

Kurhaus Hotel, The Hague, the Netherlands May 6, 2004.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court: We have been attending this conference with our friends and colleagues from the judiciary from Iraq. I am joined here by Chief Justice Medhat from Iraq. It is our very great pleasure that we have with us this morning the Lord Chief Justice of England Lord Woolf who participated in our final session on judicial ethics and judicial independence.

We were fascinated, as I indicated to you yesterday with Justice O?Connor, that the Iraqi judicial system is functioning and deciding cases even at the time when it must begin to think about those permanent structures that are necessary for the judiciary to establish to follow if the rule of law is once again to take hold in Iraq. That was our purpose being here; these are the things we were discussing.

Lord Woolf and I -- and it is also true with Justice O?Connor -- have met with judges in many countries in different parts of the world. Lord Wolff and I have been on some of these panels together. There is a bond, a kinship and a tie of affection among all judges worldwide. We share common aspirations and common beliefs. This bond and feeling of collegiality enable us, even though we have not met each other, to feel that we have known each other. We relied upon this kinship to establish an immediate rapport within just 48 hours. Time is never the friend of systems that require time to establish themselves, so there is an urgency that lawyers, judges, statesmen and stateswomen know and feel and understand with reference to Iraq. But within the confines of what in many respects look like an emergency, I think Lord Woolf will agree that we were inspired and pleased that we had the opportunity to talk about the basic principals of justice and constitutionalism. I do not know how you would like to proceed but perhaps I would like to ask Lord Woolf, and the Chief Justice to make a few comments and then we can entertain some questions.

Lord Harry Woolf, Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales: I would echo everything that Justice Kennedy has said. I must confess that, until a few days ago when I was provided with information about this conference that was going to take place, most of my English colleagues and I had no idea at all that there was any thing resembling a judiciary in Iraq. So it is hugely encouraging to come here to this conference and to find out there is not only a judiciary in Iraq, but also a judiciary, which is concerned about what should be the true values of a judicial system. I really do congratulate my American colleagues, Justice Kennedy and Justice O?Connor, in finding the time to be here and to contribute in the way that they have to this conference. It has been a real learning experience in the short time that I have with them. I am sure that the Iraqi judges in attendance feel as I do a debt of gratitude for having this opportunity.

Judge Medhat H. Hussain al Mamood, Chief Judge of the Court of Cassation, Baghdad (through a translator): Ladies and gentleman, I have the pleasure to say that this conference was very successful for many reasons: to have very important judges from all over the world, particularly Justice O?Connor, Justice Kennedy, the Chief Justice from the U.K. and the rest of the judges. It was a pleasure and honor that we met these judges because they have great experience. Although the time was so short, we formed a great friendship with the rest of the judges who attended the meeting for a few simple reasons. First they were so polite, but also they have great experience and great legal minds. They are sharing the same ideas and believe in a vision with the Iraqi judges. They have the vision and a dream about the future of the judicial system, and about the authority of the law and the government. That is what makes us understand each other. We talked about several important points. As Iraqi judges we need to hear all that information. It shows the independence of the judiciary system in Iraq, and the authority of the law, how this relates to the democracy that Iraq is seeking to have, and how the judicial system is really important to protect human rights in the future by using the authority of the law.

It was a real pleasure. We discovered a lot of the points because it helped to have the Iraqi judges to go out of Iraq, the Iraqi judges who were kept in Iraq for over 30 years, to see what is happening around the world.

Thanks again to everybody who is participating in this event, to all the people who gave us lectures, and all the administrators who worked hard to make this session successful. Hopefully our next meeting is going to be in Baghdad so we can give the same hospitality and also learn more about all the experience, the same kind of information that we all have heard over the last couple of days, here in Holland, this beautiful country.

Thank you very much.

Justice Kennedy: Thank you Chief Justice. I am afraid we have intruded on your time, but we are pleased to take some questions. I am looking at my watch because we are due back in the session. Do you have some questions?

Question: Betram Eisenhauer, Frankfurter Algemeine Zeitung. I have two questions for the Chief Justice. Can you give us a little bit of personal background, your biography, what your experience as a judge? What you did during the time of the Saddam regime and what your hopes of the future are? That would be the first question.

Judge Medhat: I have been working in the Iraqi courts for over 44 years. I am 70 years old. I worked in certain levels to get my position. But I want to focus, according to your question, on what I did and how I worked during the time of the old regime. Yes, I worked with my colleagues, the Iraqi judges, during the old regime. But we suffered a lot. The judiciary was suffering much more than the other people, because they were seeking justice and how the authority and power of the law would find the way. That was against the regime, the old regime. But still we believed we had a duty, a sacred mission. Somehow we survived, we are still here, and the regime is gone

Justice Kennedy: We feel very privileged to be with the Chief Justice. With his fortitude and his commitment to the law, it was an inspiration for all of us to be with the Chief Justice and his colleagues who have similar backgrounds..

Question: Betram Eisenhauer, Frankfurter Algemeine Zeitung. Could you characterize for me the situation that the Iraqi judiciary is in right now, and what is the biggest problem that you are facing?

Judge Medhat: We are so proud to say that the Iraqi courts started going back to work right after Operation Iraqi Freedom. I am so proud to say that all the courts in Iraq are functioning perfectly and completely. They are working with all kinds of cases that being referred to it. The courts usually work six days a week. They usually work for a certain time because they have a lot of things to do and they have to spend more time working.

Justice Kennedy: Sometimes even in countries with a dynamic stable economies, it is necessary for judges to remind legislators, presidents, the press and the people that law is part of the infrastructure of a progressive and free society. Law is as important as roads, bridges, utilities and airports. It is the basis on which progress rests. It was fascinating for us to recognize that, in times of great instability and crisis, we have the opportunity again to think about fundamentals, the fundamentals of what makes a society stabile, safe and decent. And again we had the opportunity to talk about these things.

Question: Marlise Simons, the New York Times. I would like to ask two questions to the Chief Justice. There is much discussion in Iraq about the aspirations and the competition for power between the different regions. Do you believe that a supreme court can avoid conflicts in the future between the different regions?

Judge Medhat: Thank you very much for your question. We all know that justice is blind. We are trying to use this because we believe in it. So when a case has been referred to the court, we do not think about exactly which party is participating in this case. We just think about justice and how we can find justice. We try to get the victims the justice they are seeking. We do not care exactly about their position, their beliefs or anything else. The Supreme Court, as all the other courts in Iraq, believes in this. I give my promise that you will never hear that there is a bad judgment or that we will never make justice because someone has power or has a different religion. Justice needs to be fair. The judiciary system needs to find justice.

Justice Kennedy: If you look at the history of the Supreme Court in the United States, you see that from its very beginning it was involved in deciding issues that had huge political consequences. For example, in 1800, whether there should be a bank of the United States. The thing that people must remember is that, although we decide inevitably cases with political consequences, we do not decide in a political way. The law has a language, a grammar, an ethic, an esthetic and an elegance of neutrality. We are not better than the political branches; we are not worse. We are different in the way we decide cases. At least that is our aspiration.

Question: Gerald de Hemptinne, from AFP. I would like to know with so much help coming from the U.S. and the United Kingdom, if you not fear that the future judicial system in Iraq might not be accepted by the Iraqi people?

Judge Medhat: about the help that we are receiving. First, the financial support did not only come from the U.S. or the U.K. The people that are supporting Iraq had meetings in New York and then in Madrid. So all this money, the financial support that we are receiving, does not have a certain identification because 68 countries from all over the world gave us money according to what they believe. This money goes to all the bodies of the government, not only the judicial system. This is an international concept. So many organizations are somehow helping in certain ways all the countries that need help. The Iraqi people appreciate what all the countries did, to help us and give us a hand. None of these countries made any conditions on that kind of support. They believe that this money will help Iraq to get better. So do not believe that Iraqi people do not appreciate all the people in the world who gave us a hand and helped us to get us through this situation without conditions.

Lord Woolf: Could I just make a footnote to what the Chief Justice just said? Iraq, as I understand it now and I did not before, has a legal system, which is based on the Code Napoleon and based on the Civil Law, and is very firmly so based. But the principles that we have been discussing are applicable to all legal systems of any quality. Judicial independence, judicial ethics, I can assure you that are the same if you are among civil lawyers as they are among common lawyers. So I think your fear is misplaced. We are not suggesting that they adopt a common law system.

Justice Kennedy: I might say that for years I have taught a course in Europe, in Salzburg, Austria. It has the modest, unpretentious title of ?Fundamental right in Europe and the United States? , all in four weeks. I started this in the 1970s. Over the years it has been fascinating to see the convergence of principles in the civil law and common law systems. I meet with the judges of the Luxembourg Court (European Court of Justice) and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. It is fascinating to see this convergence. When a country has the opportunity and the necessity to think about first principals of its organization, they can really find that each system is much more compatible with the other that I had previously thought. But you really put your finger at the key point: what is going to be the acceptance of the system by the people? That is the important point. Law must exist in the consciousness of a people. The people must respect the institutions. And that is the first objective of these judges. They are thinking very much about what you have asked. It is an important point.

Question: Gerald de Hemptinne, from AFP. Thank you, I would like to know your opinion about the place of religion in justice?

Judge Medhat: this is going lead us to the answer I already gave that Justice is blind. Law is law. (Inaudible) that is not going to be with the judicial system because the judges usually go according to the law.

Justice Kennedy: Lord Woolf has a plane to catch and we have to be with our people. Thank you very much for you interest.

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