My legal heroes: From Mahatma Gandhi to Laura Codruta KÖvesi
President Chakrabarti on how lawyers can change the world
Suma Chakrabarti became President of the EBRD in 2012 and was re-elected to a second four-year term in 2016. Before joining the Bank, President Chakrabarti was the most senior civil servant at the British Ministry of Justice. Prior to this, he headed the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID). He holds a degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from Oxford University and a Masters in Development Economics from the University of Sussex.
Under Suma Chakrabarti’s presidency, the EBRD has significantly expanded its policy dialogue activities aimed at promoting reform in the Bank’s countries of operations, including legal reform and other improvements to governance.
Michel Nussbaumer, Director of the Bank’s Legal Transition Programme (LTP), interviewed President Chakrabarti about his experience of advocating legal reform and stronger rule of law in his capacity as head of the EBRD, as well as in his previous jobs.
Michel Nussbaumer: When you meet with heads of government and other key decision-makers from the EBRD region, as you do on a regular basis, how high on their agenda is legal reform?
Suma Chakrabarti: The honest truth in my mind is that it is not high enough on their agenda. It is like a “nice thing to have”, but they don’t think of it much unless they have a legal background themselves, which is quite rare in our countries of operations.
MN: Do you see a difference in that context between our old region1 of operations and our new region?2 The old region was forced to enact legal reforms as they were starting from a clean slate after the collapse of the Soviet bloc, whereas in the new SEMED region there is a long tradition of commercial law.
SC: Actually I don’t see this difference. The behaviours are quite similar in our traditional region and in the SEMED region, in particular in terms of the attitude towards corruption and prosecuting it. Talking to governments in Romania and Bulgaria has been quite similar to talking to governments in the SEMED region.
MN: But we should not forget the impact of EU accession in the old region.
SC: EU accession has always been a good motive for institutional reforms in all these countries. But at the same time the EU itself is still very critical of some of its members when it comes to the judiciary and organised crime, and how it is prosecuted or not prosecuted. Since the EU became very clear about the failings in Bulgaria and Romania, for example, there have been major advances. Look at Laura Codruta Kövesi3 pushing on the anti-corruption front in Romania. She has done a tremendous job I think, so that the judiciary in Romania is now very much more independent. Many female judges have supported her actions.
MN: Then there is the question about what we can do to incentivise countries to reform their legislation. Would you have any advice on how to make our policy dialogue more efficient?
Laura Codruta Kövesi has done a tremendous job, so that the judiciary in Romania is now very much more independent. Many female judges have supported her actions.