Incompetent judges and political influence are the biggest problems of the judiciary.


In the words of Milan Antonijevic, the director of the Lawyer’s Committee for Human Rights, “the current biggest problem in the judiciary is that we don’t have a judiciary.”

“No trials have been held for several months and I don’t see anyone working on a plan of what to do when the judiciary starts working again after the lawyers’ strike comes to an end. We must then see an extraordinarily active prosecutor’s office and an extraordinarily active judiciary in order to make up for lost time. In my opinion, the Ministry must come forth with a clear plan on how this is going to unfold,” Antonijevic points out.

One of the great problems of the judiciary is the length of the trials, due to which some cases become stale. Dragana Coric, professor at Faculty of Law in Novi Sad, says that “in the last several decades, going to a judge doesn’t exactly equate to achieving justice”.

 “As a lawyer trainee, I received a case which began in 1984, but had only reached me in 2000. This is what shocked me the most at the beginning of my clerkship and fourteen years later nearly nothing has changed. The rule that if you wish to waste a lot of time and a lot of money you should go to court applies like never before, even though we ratified numerous international conventions and protocols referring to a reasonable time during which cases must be concluded,” states Dragana Coric.

Milan Antonijevic points out that the judges, due to whose actions some cases became stale, aren’t being held accountable. “Most problematic are the cases in which there are political elements, some of which are speedily concluded, while others are being stalled which leads to time limitations. But the judges that brought that about aren’t being held responsible. You have to be clear on which judges are doing a good job and which aren’t,” says Antonijevic. Our interlocutor’s agree that the length of the trials is the main cause of the increasing decline of the citizen’s confidence in the judiciary.

Forty-two disciplinary actions against judges have been initiated in the last year, and motions for removal have been made against eight of them. Up to now three judges have been removed. Most actions are due to the fact that the judge didn’t pass his verdict in time, while a few actions were started due to suspicion of corruption.

 “You have a perception that the corruption in the judiciary is very high. There aren’t many cases in which corruption has been proven, but it most certainly exists. Some cases are concluded in a fashion that suggests that some strings were pulled. This doesn’t necessarily mean that material compensation was involved or rewards were given, but some benefits might be received at a later point. The advancement of the judges themselves needs to be reexamined; is their advancement a reward for the verdicts they’ve passed in politically sensitive cases? The Ministry must be clear on whether such practices exist or not and the profession itself must take a firmer stance on this matter,” states Milan Antonijevic.

In the view of Slobodan Beljanski, a lawyer from Novi Sad, the biggest problem in the judiciary is the lack of professionalism and qualifications of most of the judges themselves, as well as the influence of political factors and the executive power on the workings of the courts.

 “I would say that such destructive influence spans over several decades, the professionalism of the courts is in decline and the blame for that falls on the poor staffing policy and the influence that the executive power and political factors had on it. There were two complete reelections of all the judges in the country – once in 1991 and now during these latest reforms, as well as several “purges” that took place after certain political changes. All of this instills a sense of uncertainty in the judges, reduces their work motivation and thereby reduces their professional level,” says Beljanski.

In his words, one cannot expect the judges to have confidence in the security of their station if they can expect a new reelection procedure due to the expected passing of a new Constitution.

The judiciary is one of the first casualties of political force

 “I would say that the judiciary is one of the first casualties of political force. The influence of these forces doesn’t have to be direct and their effect is usually a result of some sort of self-regulation brought about by a sense of indebtedness of those who were backed by those political forces or lessons learned from past events concerning the reelection of all judges and the ease with which they were removed,” states Beljanski, who was the first president of the Anti-Corruption Council.

Dragana Coric from the Faculty of Law points out that the pressure from the media can’t be overlooked. “Constant ‘bombardment’ of readers with a single crime, even with truly monstrous ones, and publishing facts and descriptions that shouldn’t be made public are by themselves a form of pressure on the presiding judge. It is for this reason that we can see a judge stating in the delivery of the verdict that a crime is ‘monstrous’ because the press constantly referred to it as such and he makes an error by doing so. Monstrous though it may be, ‘monstrous’ isn’t a recognized term in criminal law,” says Dragana Coric.

YUCOM director Milan Antonijevic points out that it’s important to analyze the pressures and attacks aimed at the war crimes prosecutor’s office over the past several months. “You have to analyze numerous opened cases, ask why someone in power is attacking the prosecutor’s office in such a blunt manner at this time when that could jeopardize the trials already in progress. This is an alarm we have to take very seriously and the people who initiated this public harassment must be held responsible,” says Antonijevic.

Notaries and Executors “out of the blue”


The introduction of the notaries and private executors came “out of the blue” and the manner in which these institutions have been introduced “caused a total collapse in the legal system, so from that point of view the lawyers’ strike is completely understandable,” says Dragana Coric. The lawyers have announced that they will resume work on Monday January 26th after the Parliament of Serbia changed the Public Notary Act.

According to Slobodan Beljanski, the strike had some success, though partial, and he believes that the struggle will continue until the rest of the lawyer’s demands are met. He also remarks that the reaction of the state to the lawyers demands and the four month strike was odd. “The fact that nobody cares about the consequences of the government’s stubbornness is astonishing. What they did now they could have done at the very beginning and we wouldn’t have the situation that we have now which will go on for who knows how long. What’s worse is that the people in charge in these departments in government aren’t being held accountable for their conduct but are instead being praised for it. This is a paradox which to me indicates that we can’t expect any headway to be made in the judiciary and justice department for the foreseeable future,” states Slobodan Beljanski.

You can hear more from our interlocutors in the complete show from the “Security for the Future” series.


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