Bridging stronger judicial ties with the Western Balkans

Thursday. 31 October 2019

The year 2019 marks a sharp increase in the popularity of the EJTN exchange programmes among the participants from the Western Balkan judiciaries. In the framework of the Exchange Programme 2019, a record number of 56 participants from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Albania (compared to five participants from FYROM and Montenegro in 2018) took part or are still due to take part in exchanges for (future) judges, prosecutors and judicial trainers across European judiciaries.

The AIAKOS programme dedicated to future and early-career judges proved to be the most popular choice, attracting particularly the Albanian participants. Ms Erlanda Agaj, a judge candidate from Albania, is one of the many participants who has profited from the possibility to participate in the AIAKOS training week during 2019. After an eventful week of versatile training activities at hosting SSR in the Netherlands, Ms Agaj looks back at her unique experience, highlighting the most memorable moments which, according to her, resulted to be the ‘most fascinating activity’ she has taken part in.

Background: the Western Balkan project

In 2018, the door was opened to the participation of the Western Balkans in the EJTN’s training activities with financial support of the European Commission’s pre-accession instrument in the context of the potential accession of the candidate countries to the EU. Today, the objectives of offering the Western Balkan judiciaries the opportunity to bridge stronger judicial ties with their European counterparts and learn about the judicial systems of EU Member States are further reinforced by a proposal for launching reciprocal exchanges with the region as early as 2020. 


The following article originally appeared in SSR Magazine 2019/2020.

A week to remember: building networks between generations of magistrates in Europe

Dear Agaj Erlanda, We hereby confirm your participation to the AIAKOS Programme … for future and early-career judges and prosecutors… Your hosting country will take contact with you for your activity that will take place in Netherlands/Pays Bas from 13/05/2019 to 17/05/2019…

When I initially received this email, I didn’t know that it would be a tremendous experience. Although, I was the only person coming from Albania, a non-EU Member State, it resulted to be the most fascinating activity I have ever been part to.

Erlanda Agaj participating in the AIAKOS week in the Netherlands © SSRA


Participants, from different cultures and countries (Poland, Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic and Lithuania); several professional positions (judges, prosecutors, future magistrates, trainees, judge assistant, etc); sitting in various judicial institutions (first instance courts, appeal courts, administrative courts, constitutional court), built a colourful team. Sharing experiences on judicial systems and initial trainings in each country with a diverse group, including Dutch professionals, was an added value. It was remarkable that exchange of experiences wasn’t over in one session. We were constantly raising questions on judicial systems and regulations. Even having fun was always accompanied with judicial issues jokes.

I was astonished by the Dutch judicial organization with ordinary courts, special tribunals and the different layers of judging administrative matters. What really impressed me, was the carefulness of guaranteeing the legal certainty and judges’ commitment to not give conflicting decisions. One way of assuring it, is the Council for the Judiciary role which, aside of aiming an effective judicial system, has to secure the uniform application of the law. Another one is the clear division of sections within the Supreme Court. The possibility of ordinary courts to posse preliminary questions to the Supreme Court prevents the eventual controversy judgments, too. I noticed as a well- founded tool the expert meeting of the ordinary courts, in deciding on how to interpret a special provision of the law, when it lacks clarity.

After being informed also on the Dutch prosecutorial system, I felt it accurate to ask myself: “Would it be possible that the Albanian public prosecutor services functions under the responsibility of the Minister of Justice?” I didn’t know the answer. I still don’t know but considering the general situation I found it precarious in a country with a fragile democracy, which is classified as hybrid regimes regarding democracy index in 2018 and which has a weak position to the rule of law adherence. Talking about Albanian situation due to the Judicial Reform taking place and considering the big discussion of the Albanian Constitutional Court non functionality, it was exciting to know that indeed, in the Netherlands, there is no Constitution Court at all, but the judicial power is quite well working, the Constitution is highly respected and constitutional issues are dealt by ordinary court judges. I wish this could work within my national system, as well. 

With regard to magistrate professional development, this exchange contributed on topics which are usually taken for granted and rarely discussed, such as ethics and human behaviour. The lecture on Integrity increased my awareness, especially on the “Community focused” value. Sometimes, workload separates the standing and sitting magistrates from the society. Me as a young magistrate, taking this value in mind, am now oriented to observe what’s happening to the public and not only to my files.

The “Monkey management” presentation focused on observing human behaviour got stuck in my memory. It helped me to better understand and perceive my colleagues, parties and other actors at the trial, or even myself. In addition, I was eager to know more on “Insights” presentation, which was focused on personal development. We had a magnificent afternoon session, which increased our self-awareness and indicated us for establishing better relationships. By the way, it turned out me to be an extrovert and now I can easily distinguish extrovert and introvert people.

Apart of the above, presentation of the EU instruments in fostering fight against transnational crimes, such as European Arrest Order (EAO) and European Investigation Order (EIO), were quite helpful, especially for me as a young Albanian magistrate who is willing to learn how EU colleagues do apply these tools in their daily job. However, I noticed that they had many questions too, what brings out their interests and relevance nowadays.

No meal tastes without the cake and the cherry on this “cake” week, was certainly the trial session at the Amsterdam Court, we witnessed. I was impressed by the solemnity of the courtroom, by the complexity of the case (criminal, civil, family law, international, diplomatic issues etc.) and seriousness of the actors involved in doing a perfect job. The non- voting of judges while they decide on the case was unexpected. There is no minor opinion! This is so fantastic! For sure, it increases public trust and the defendant will say “Yes, the Court decided I am guilty/innocent”, and not “Well, I don’t know, two judges judged that I’m guilty, and one found me innocent.”  The crucial role of the clerk in the process! Just amazing! The respect of other judge colleagues’ opinion and their appreciation for each other expertise in a concrete legal field! Lovely! By the end of that week, I realized that this is the justice system I always dreamt about! The governance of rule of law! An unforgettable experience, which motivates us to reflect back home!

Last but not least, there are some crucial facilities that one needs in a training centre, especially advanced training and learning centres such as those dedicated to the initial and continuing formation of magistrates. The way of offering those facilities was impressive at the premises of SSR, especially dedication to e-learning and holding of a recording studio for web lectures, interviews and webinars, shows the extensive approach of rising professional capacities. Definitely, this event was a valid strong bridge of networking, so much needed in a Europe without borders!


Tirana, 10th of July 2019

Erlanda AGAJ

Judge Candidate,

Graduated at the Albanian School of Magistrate