INTERVIEW WITHaIVAN SIMONOVIC, CROATIA'S JUSTICE MINISTER : ZAGREB WILL WRAP UP TALKS ON JUDICIARY BY YEAR'S END

Article excerpt

On the eve of his departure from the post of Croatia's Justice Minister, Ivan Simonovic outlines the country's progress in EU-related reforms, expressing confidence that Croatia is now fully ready to open accession talks on judiciary and fundamental rights in June and finish them by the end of the year. He also strongly believes that the Slovenian voters will approve the Slovenia-Croatia arbitration agreement in a national referendum, on 6 June. On 3 May, Simonovic was appointed UN assistant secretary-general for human rights, becoming the highest-ranking Croatian official in an international organisation.

You took over the ministerial post at a critical point (October 2008), when Croatia was strongly criticised for the insufficient reforms in the judiciary sector, especially regarding the fight against corruption and organised crime. What is the situation on the eve of your departure?

Concerning reform of the justice system in general, we have managed to substantially cut the backlog of cases. Over thee last five years, we have reduced it by more than half. Concerning efficiency, we've changed completely our criminal and administrative procedures in order to speed up proceedings. We also reduced the network of courts to achieve a more rational allocation of the case load. Now we have just one court - the largest court in Zagreb - where we tackle over half of the old cases - ie those started at least three years ago. We are also introducing measures in order to cut the backlog in commercial courts. Concerning the fight against corruption and organised crime, figures speak best for themselves. For example, in 2009, we had a very sharp increase in the number of convictions - 135%. What is new is that towards the end of 2009 and in 2010 we have also achieved a sharp increase in the number of cases against corruption at the highest level. Right now, there are proceedings going on against a former minister, a former ambassador, a judge of the high court, and three vice-presidents of a privatisation fund. So, literally, names and positions can't protect people any more. Our current political climate is conducive to the fight against corruption and organised crime. It is an irreversible process supported by all political parties.

How are these changes assessed by the EU?

They are welcomed by the EU. They are encouraged and also applauded by both the European Commission and the member states. What we have been hearing though is that "you are doing the right thing. However, we do not want to see only criminal proceedings but also sentences". This is in the pipeline.

How efficient is your justice system compared to that of the other EU countries?

I would say that as regards proceedings against organised crime and corruption we would be above the EU average. However, I wouldn't say the same about our efficiency in handling all the cases.

The Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), Serge Brammertz , is to present his report on cooperation with Croatia on the missing military documents at the end of May. …