06 Oct 2020

A new stage in the development of the judiciary in Serbia between 2020-2025

The development of the judiciary is one of the key priorities for the Republic of Serbia. It is a permanent process of modernization and harmonization of the judiciary with the needs of the state and society, in order to ensure rule of law and enhance legal certainty. In line with this, on July 10, the Government of the Republic of Serbia, adopted Judicial Development Strategy for the time period between 2020 and 2025  (“Strategy”), as well as the revised Action Plan for the Chapter 23 (“Action plan”).  We would also like to point out that AmCham Serbia, of which Gecić Law is a member, took part in the series of round tables with the judiciary stakeholders and that majority of their recommendations are included in the Strategy.

The link between the Strategy and the Action Plan

The Strategy was developed in accordance with the process of Serbia’s accession to the EU. Its aim is strengthening the rule of law, improving access to justice and legal security, and achieving quality and effective protection of citizens’ rights and freedoms.  At the same time, the Action Plan is a plan for monitoring implementation of the Strategy, which enables full harmonization of these two important frameworks and thus directs the work of the Serbian judiciary for the upcoming period.

Strategical priorities

Given that various measures in the Strategy set a comprehensive and complex framework for further judiciary development, Serbia also needs to commit to key strategic priorities on that path. In accordance with the Strategy, the main priorities are:

  • further increase of judicial independence and prosecutorial autonomy through an enhanced normative and institutional framework specifying the application of adopted criteria for election of judicial office holders; criteria for promotion and performance appraisal of judges and prosecutors; and strengthening of professional and personnel capacities of courts and public prosecutors’ offices, the High Court Council and the State Prosecutorial Council;
  • further strengthening of integrity of judicial officeholders and members of the High Court Council and the State Prosecutorial Council through adherence to ethical principles,
  • improvement in the quality of the judicial system by strengthening the competences and capabilities of judicial officeholders and employees in the judiciary through defining the role and position of the Judicial Academy and strengthening its capacities;
  • increasing efficiency of the judicial system through an analysis and adaptation of the judicial network; reduction in the total number of pending cases with an emphasis on backlog cases and prevention of emergence of additional backlog cases; accessibility of legal regulations and creation of mechanisms for establishing and publishing uniform case law pertinent to courts and public prosecutors’ offices;
  • increasing public trust in the work of judiciary through greater accessibility of judicial institutions and continuous transparency of their work, including better functionality of judicial institutions’ web pages and consistent implementation of judicial institutions’ communication strategies.

We should point out that, although an important and inseparable element of the judiciary, the role of attorneys is not specifically included in the measures of this Strategy, as activities for its improvement in the negotiation process are covered by the negotiating Chapter 3 („Right of establishment and freedom to provide services”) and its accompanying action plan, and not under Chapter 23 (“Judiciary and Fundamental Rights”), and its Action Plan which monitors the implementation of the said Strategy.

Objectives of the Strategy

The Strategy lays out general and particular objectives. The general objective is further strengthening of the rule of law, and improving access to justice, and legal certainty to ensure the adequate and efficient realization of the protection of rights and freedoms of citizens, along with increasing trust in the judicial system. On the other hand, the Strategy sets out six objectives in the form of elements of the judiciary. The elements are as follows:

  • Independence and autonomy

In order for the judiciary to be considered independent and autonomous, it is necessary that procedures for nomination, election, promotion, transfer, and termination of judicial office are based on clear, objective, and predetermined criteria.  The only exception would pertain to the election and termination of office of the Republic’s public prosecutor, which would remain under the competence of the National Assembly,

  • Impartiality and accountability

It is necessary to amend the legislative framework in order to further specify and apply the rules on random case assignment in courts and in the public prosecutor’s offices, the disciplinary liability of judges and public prosecutors, and allow the establishment of a mechanism for centralized, transparent and efficient handling of complaints against the work of judges and courts submitted by citizens. 

  • Competence

It is necessary to put in significant effort to improve the expertise of judicial officeholders, and to provide training for representatives of new judicial professions such as notaries, public enforcement officers, and mediators, as well as a large number of judicial staff.  The Judicial Academy’s role as the sole gatekeeper to the judiciary is also noted.  A significant improvement was achieved with the introduction of a system of selection and training of judicial trainees, as well as clear and measurable criteria for performance appraisal of judicial and prosecutorial assistants.

  • Efficiency

Bearing in mind the international standards, especially those set by the ECHR case law, it is necessary to continue working towards the reduction of the number of pending, and especially backlog cases, to relieve the courts, and also improve accessibility and harmonization of case law.   

Particular attention should be paid to improving the work of the Administrative Court through establishing a new network of administrative courts (first instance and second instance/appellate administrative courts). Also, it is important to improve the efficiency of commercial courts with the aim of improving the stability of the business environment.

  • E-judiciary

It is also necessary to improve the Judicial Information System and the eSud, eZIO and ProNep applications for the electronic exchange of data, as well as the applications for case law and central statistics.

  • Transparency and availability

In an era of fast flow and exchange of information, judicial bodies should, to the extent permitted by the law and procedural rules, build public trust by continuously presenting to the media and citizens, in a responsible and professional, but easy to understand way, information which explains the importance of the work of the judiciary and efforts made to administer justice.

An ongoing process

Serbia is still on the path towards the modernization of the judiciary.  All of these initiatives should increase trust citizens have in judicial institutions, but also help attract and retain foreign investments in Serbia by way of easy–to–understand regulations which are effectively implemented and thereby guarantee effective protection of investor’s lawful interests and legal certainty.

Authors: Danica Misojčić and Žarko Popović