Judicial Reform in Serbia
Murret, Eugene J., Judicature
The year 2010 culminates a protracted period of piecemeal implementation of several components of judicial reform in Serbia first conceived in 2001. Serbia (population 8 million approx.) bas a single national judicial system now headed by the High Court Council (HCC) chaired by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Cassation, and including the Minister of Justice, chair of the National Assembly judiciary committee, and eight members elected for five-year terms by the National Assembly on nomination of the respective constituencies - six judges, a law professor, and a bar member.
Principal functions of the HCC include the selection, promotion, and discipline of judges, proposing the judiciiir) budget, allocating funds to courts and monitoring expenditures, promoting judges to higher courts, and nominating court presidents who are elected by the National Assembly. The hierarchy of courts are: misdemeanor (violations of traffic and other regulations), basic (civil, criminal up to 10 years imprisonment), higher (major civil and criminal), appellate (4 courts. 228 judges, civil, criminal), commercial, appellate commercia], higher misdemeanor, administrative, Constitutional Court, and Supreme Court of Cassation for extraordinary remedies (incorrect application of substantive law plus significan! violalion oF procedural rules; 29 judges. 3-judge panels on motions to appeal. 5-judge panels on merits).
The major judicial reform has been to reduce the number of judges, courts, and staff. Effective January 1, 2010. the 138 municipal courts were re-organi/ed into 84 basic courts, many of which have court units at the sites of the former municipal courts. The number of judges was reduced by IH percent, from 2,250 to 1,838 (not including misdemeanor magistrales), with 5.050 applications (including from 2.337 then current judges) for these positions. In the relection of judges by the High Court Council, 856 judges were not reelected and 444 new judges were elected (almost one quarter of the new total). The current constitution provides that the first election of a judge is for a threeyear period and must be approved by Parliament and that re-flection by the HCC is for life.
An acting court president was appointed to each court. Many of these had never been court presidents and some had not been judges. Permanent court presidents will be appointed in the near future. Cases transferred from abolished or merged courts or to courts wilh new subjeci-maucr jurisdiction as well as cases already in the reorganized main courts had to be renumbered. usually by hand (due lo lack of computer support) and alloted to judges, as were the renumbered cases of a judge noi reelecled. If the case was already in process when alloted, a litigant can object to the case continuing forward before the newly assigned judge who is required to start the case anew for good cause. The courts of Serbia were already burdened with heavy backlogs. The new reform of fewer courts, judges, and staff has added to those backlogs.
The Judges Association of Serbia and individual judges not reelected filed suits in the Constitutional Court challenging the relection process on several grounds, particularly ihat no reasons were given to anv judge noi reelecled. The Council responded by providing identical reasons to each judge, but the Judges Association and former judges are pressing forward with their cases on several grounds including a flawed process. The Council of Europe has expressed its concerns that the relection process did not meet EU standards (Serbia hopes to become a candidate for admission to the EU) in that most members of the Council, although nominated by other representative constituencies, are elected by the National Assembly, and because the relection process for incumbent judges was Hawed. The general prosecutor is conducting an investigation into the falsification of data indicating poor performance of many judges not reflected by the HCC. …