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Bar News - March 22, 2002


Confidence of the People Essential to Independent Judiciary

By:
 

Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt of remarks made Feb. 14, 2002, by NH Superior Court Associate Justice Kathleen A. McGuire to an annual conference of judges and justices of the peace of Vologda, Russia. Vologda’s legal community has been collaborating with counterparts in New Hampshire on a judicial improvement project for the past several years. Judge McGuire has been the leader of the New Hampshire delegation to the project, which was initiated by the NH Supreme Court and is funded through an international aid program.

THIS IS MY sixth visit to Vologda since May 1998, when I came here to explore the possibility with Ivan Baraev, Vienamin Kutuzov and Yuri Smirnov of forming a partnership between the legal communities of the state of New Hampshire and the Oblast of Vologda. Since that first visit, many important changes have occurred. For example, the Court Administration Department has been created, the bailiff service formed, the Criminal Procedure Code rewritten, the Justice of the Peace system created, and a Council of Judges and a Judicial Qualification Commission reformed.

These changes, and many others, are visible and even dramatic. But a more subtle and difficult task lies ahead. You judges must gain the trust, respect and confidence of the public and especially of the people who use your courts to settle their disputes. The trust, respect and confidence of the people are essential to an independent judiciary, and an independent judiciary is essential to a free society.

You judges are crucial participants in a time of exciting possibilities for Russia. At the same time, you have enormous responsibilities. The situation in Russia today reminds me of the situation in America in 1776. I am currently reading the biography of John Adams, one of the signers of our Declaration of Independence and drafters of the US Constitution, and second president of the United States. In reading the book, I was struck by the unique opportunity our founding fathers had to create a new type of government, and by the enormous responsibility they had in ensuring that it would work. With a great deal of intelligence and hard work, they created a democratic government that thrives today based on a constitution designed to protect the independence of the judiciary, and thus, the liberties of its citizens.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia, too, is in a unique position to create a brand new government. The constitution you adopted in 1993 is a model for a democratic government and a society governed by the rule of law, not by the cult of personality.

The role of the judiciary is critical in implementing the mandates of your constitution. Not only must the judiciary be strong and independent, but the people must perceive that the judiciary is strong and independent, and that it is fair. Achieving this goal today in Russia will be more difficult, I think, than it was when the United States was founded because you must overcome a tradition of a judiciary that was not independent of the government and, therefore, could not be trusted to be fair and impartial.

You have a difficult and crucial task ahead, but your desire and dedication to achieving a respected and independent judiciary cannot be doubted. I spoke earlier about the wisdom and hard work of John Adams and our other founding fathers. Those qualities are present in this room. I want you to know that you have the faith, good will and support of the people of the United States, particularly of the legal community of New Hampshire, in achieving your goal.

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