A worldwide network to safeguard the rule of law and protect human rights
The Austrian Constitutional Court is part of a European and global network of courts that is dedicated to the objective of safeguarding the rule of law and protecting human rights. This network comprises constitutional courts, on the one hand, and European courts of justice, such as the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), on the other hand. As the world’s first court endowed with the power to review laws according to the model of concentrated judicial review, the Austrian Constitutional Court plays a pioneering role in the further development of constitutional justice.
International cooperation has been institutionalised within the framework of the Conference of European Constitutional Courts and the World Conference on Constitutional Justice. As a founding member, the Austrian Constitutional Court plays a leading role in both institutions. In 2014 (and once before, in 1978), it hosted the XVIth Congress of the Conference of European Constitutional Courts in Vienna.
The Constitutional Court also maintains intensive contacts with other constitutional courts, especially those of Austria’s neighbouring countries.
Another institution exercising a significant influence on the international evolution of constitutional justice is the “European Commission for Democracy through Law” (“Venice Commission”), a body of the Council of Europe. The Commission was established in 1990 with the mandate to support the countries in transition in the elaboration of new constitutions after the fall of the Iron Curtain. It has since evolved into an independent advisory body in constitutional matters. Cooperation between the “Venice Commission” and the constitutional courts has been institutionalized within the framework of the “Joint Council on Constitutional Justice”.
The Conference of European Constitutional Courts
The Conference of European Constitutional Courts, established in Dubrovnik in 1972, brings together representatives of European constitutional courts and similar institutions with powers of judicial review. It promotes the exchange of information among its members and takes measures to strengthen the independence of constitutional courts as a crucial element in safeguarding and implementing democracy and the rule of law. In this vein, upon an initiative of the Austrian Constitutional Court, the Conference adopted a resolution on “Respect for Independence of Constitutional Courts” at its congress in Batumi (Georgia) in June 2017.
In this resolution, the representatives of the courts underline that the legitimacy of constitutional justice and its effectiveness “necessarily” depend on its independence. They call upon the decision-makers in the national parliaments and governments “to uphold and protect the independence of our Courts and our justices, as it is the indispensable and fundamental condition for the proper functioning of any court”.
The Conference comprises 41 full members, one associate member (Belarus) and a number of observers and invited guests (interested courts from countries outside Europe, e.g. Israel, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Mongolia).
From 2011 to 2014, the Austrian Constitutional Court presided over the Conference for the second time. It hosted the XVIth Congress of the Conference of European Constitutional Courts in Vienna in 2014. The documents relating to this event can still be accessed at: XVIth Congress of the Conference of European Constitutional Courts. The 2017 Congress was held in Batumi; in 2020, Prague will be the venue of the Congress.
The World Conference on Constitutional Justice
The World Conference on Constitutional Justice provides a platform for cooperation among linguistic and regional groups (including the Conference of European Constitutional Courts, Asian Constitutional Courts and the Ibero-American Conference on Constitutional Justice), with which the Venice Commission has been in regular contact since 1996. Its objective is to foster cooperation among its members through the organisation of regular congresses, participation in regional conferences and seminars, and the exchange of experience and information on their jurisprudence.
The World Conference meets every three years. The first Congress held in Cape Town in January 2009 brought together a total of 93 constitutional courts and 9 linguistic and regional groups. The main purpose of the World Conference is to facilitate communication among constitutional courts at global level. Currently, its members include 110 constitutional courts and constitutional councils as well as supreme courts with constitutional jurisdiction in Africa, America, Asia, Australia and Europe. The World Conference last met in Vilnius (Lithuania) in 2017; its next meeting, scheduled for 2020, will take place in Algiers (Algeria).