Reports produced in previous years by EU and others, related to the stage of Serbian Judiciary is mainly pointing out considerable duration and significant backlog of cases, lack of possibilities to enforce court judgments, and corruption.
YUCOMs legal aid came to similar conclusions based on cases led before Serbian courts and before ECHR.
A number of weaknesses of the judicial system of the Republic of Serbia have been identified, as you could see from the material that we have handed to you: overly complex and broad system of courts, unclear standards for election, dismissal, performance and promotion of judges, lack of capacities for integrated planning, budget making and measuring of the system outputs, outdated models of the functioning judicial administration, including the lack of in-service training of judges and other judicial office holders.
Judicial reform in the Republic of Serbia is the ongoing process which is conducted in the context of the National Judicial Reform Strategy, adopted by the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia on 25th May 2006, which core principles are: independence, transparency, accountability and efficiency.
In line with the Strategy, systemic reforms were undertaken in Republic of Serbia in the previous fourth years. Judiciary system has been reorganised on structural and professional level, new independent bodies have been established and new strategic and legal framework established. The fight against organised crime and corruption are intensified. Agency for Fight against corruption is established from January 2010. Law on Seizure of assets has been adopted and implemented from October 2008. Directorate for Management of Seized and Confiscated Assets is established within the Ministry of Justice.
After the adoption of new set of judicial laws, introduction of broad reform of the judiciary and establishment of new bodies – the High Judicial Council and the State Prosecutorial Council in 2008 and 2009, the process of general election of judges has been initiated. High Judicial Council adopted a Decision on the Election of Judges to Permanent Judicial Function in courts of general and special jurisdictions, while the National Assembly, based on a High Judicial Council proposal, adopted a Decision on the election of judges to a three-year term of office in courts of general and special jurisdictions. State Prosecutorial Council issued a Decision on electing public prosecutors and their deputies, while the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia, based on a proposal of the State Prosecutorial Council, elected new deputy public prosecutors to initial three-year terms of office.
General election process opened a lot of discussion, comments and concerns both from international and national legal experts. EU Progress Report for 2010 also addressed main weaknesses of this process (lack of transparency and objective criteria) and requires systematic review and adequate measure to be undertaken in order to finalize reform of judiciary in line with EU standards.
Parallel to this process, a new courts network has been established, effective from January 1, 2010. The judicial laws envisage a complete reorganization of the judicial networks which allows the people of the Republic of Serbia access to justice in the same places where they had always exercised that right, and will make a significant contribution to more efficient, more impartial and more objective adjudication. As a result of this crucial changes, Serbia’s courts system is based on 34 basic courts (138 municipal courts have been reorganized into 34 basic courts), 26 higher courts and 4 courts of appeal with general jurisdiction, misdemeanour courts as well as specialized commercial courts, administrative court and the Supreme Court of Cassation with 2.433 judges. Appellate and administrative courts are newly established courts, as well as minor offences courts (they used to be administrative organs).
The organization of the prosecution service follows the organization of the court network. There are basic, higher and appellate public prosecutions, in charge of handling cases before the corresponding courts, while the War Crimes Prosecution and Organized Crime Prosecutions are special-purpose prosecution services.
The issue of access to justice is still present, in sense that it needs to be further developed, and the access to information on court proceedings needs to be additionally simplified and made at the disposal of the citizens. This, in particular, relates to the enabling the better access to justice for indigent citizens. Although the Government adopted in October 2010 the Strategy on Development of the Free Legal Aid System in the Republic of Serbia, it still needs to be seen whether it will be successfully implemented.
Changes in the structure and organization of Serbian judiciary is pawing the way to provide better access to justice and efficiency to the citizens of Serbia as well as the opportunity to tackle some burning issues related to judicial efficiency.
Keeping in mind that the National Judicial Reform Strategy was adopted for the 5-year period, it is obvious that, during the final year of Strategy’s implementation, the need for amending the existing Strategy or drafting a new one will occur.
Belgrade, January 2011