An advisory body to the Council of Europe has supported the criticisms that Serbian judges have made about proposed constitutional changes, the Judges’ Association of Serbia said.
The Consultative Council of European Judges, CCJE, a Council of Europe advisory body on issues relating to the independence and competence of judges, has supported Serbian judges in their criticisms of proposed changes to the constitution, the head of the Serbian judges’ association, Dragana Boljevic, noted on Monday.
Boljevic said the CCJE’s opinion matches that of her association on most issues regarding the constitutional amendments that Serbian judges do not support.
Observers from the Venice Commission visited Serbia last week to talk about the reforms and are expected to give their own opinion on the proposed amendments in June.
But Boljevic said the text of the amendments] that was sent to the Venice Commission had “not been harmonized – nobody debated about it”.
Serbia, whose courts have long been plagued by political interference, has to reform its judiciary as part of its EU accession, specifically as part of Chapter 23 of the EU “acquis”, which deals with the rule of law.
Experts and associations of judges and prosecutors in the country say that the constitutional changes proposed by the Justice Ministry would have the opposite result, strengthening the grip of politics over the judiciary.
Milan Antonijevic, director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights, YUCOM, said the authorities in Serbia are mounting a campaign to reduce the judiciary’s independence.
“We don’t know to this day who wrote these amendments in the name of the Justice Ministry,” he said.
In its opinion, the CCJE criticizes the reduction of members of the High Judicial Council, the body that proposes candidates for judges, from 11 to 10, as well as the proposed composition of the body, which would include five judges and five members elected by the parliament.
“An even number of members is clearly inappropriate for a body, which will inevitably have difficulties adopting decisions in case of differences in opinion,“ the Council said, adding that the body should have an odd number of members and that most of them should be judges.
The CCJE also says that members of the High Judicial Council should not be elected with a five-ninths majority in parliament, which is currently an option in case candidates cannot gain support from three-fifths of MPs.
“It is important that members of the HCJ are not elected according to the preference of any one dominant political party or parties. A qualified majority of three-fifths will normally ensure that this is the case,” the Council says.
Antonijevic from YUCOM said that he expects the Consultative Council of European Prosecutors to weigh in on the proposed amendments in the coming days. “We expect the public to monitor this process,” he said.