National Strategy for Judicial Reform working group held its first meeting
On January 24th 2013, working group for the development of the National Strategy for Judicial Reform held its first meeting. Professional associations of judges and prosecutors stated once again that the State of Law cannot be built with those who injured the standards of the Rule of Law.
23 January 2013
Dear members of the National Judicial Reform Strategy Working Group,
As I am present here today in the capacity of a representative, not the Chairwoman of the Judges’ Association of Serbia (JAS), I have been tasked with conveying to you the view of the JAS Assembly and Management Board, which I, too, subscribe to. I will read it out to make sure that I have conveyed it precisely.
Before the Working Group begins working on the Judicial Reform Strategy, I would like to draw your attention to a conclusion that the JAS Assembly reached at its May 2012 session and that remains valid today as well, notably, that the election of the new members of the High Judicial Council (HJC) is the issue of utmost priority with respect to the Serbian judiciary.
As you are aware, attention has been continuously and on many occasions drawn over the last few years to the numerous mistakes of the HJC and the Supreme Prosecutors’ Council (SPC) by many national and international authorities – national legal experts, the Commissioner for Access to Information of Public Importance, the Protector of Citizens, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in its Resolution of 25 January 2012, the European Parliament in its Resolution of 29 March 2012, as well as by other CoE and EU institutions.
Moreover, having negatively assessed their performance, the legislator in December 2010 ordered the HJC/SPC to review each of over 3000 decisions they rendered on the non-reappointment and reappointment of judges and prosecutors and the election of first-time judges and prosecutors in December 2009. The new convocation of the HJC, however, failed to use this opportunity to “review” its decisions on judicial appointments and conform its work with the requirements of the rule of law, which, in July 2012, led the Constitutional Court to revoke all the Council decisions it had reviewed on appeal. I would like to draw your attention to the book presented in December, authored by Law College Professor Dr. Vesna Rakic Vodinelic and EU Observers Dr. Ana Knezevic Bojovic and Dr. Mario Reljanovic, who monitored the HJC/SPC reviews on an everyday basis and qualified the members of these bodies as incompetent, unqualified and unworthy, using precisely those words, on several occasions in their book. I would particularly like to draw your attention to the opinion of European experts presented to the Justice Minister in December 2012, in which they listed the election of new HJC/SPC members as the first of their seven recommendations.
Notwithstanding, although it initiated the amendment of a number of laws, including those governing the judiciary, the Ministry has not recognised the need or demonstrated the commitment either to amend the laws on the HJC and SPC or refrain from taking far-reaching decisions as long as they are comprised of their current members.
We in the JAS notified the Minister of our view that the rule of law cannot be built with those who have persistently and gravely violated the principles of the rule of law, like the members of the prior convocations of the Councils have, at our very first meeting on 17 August 2012, and subsequently, in our letters of 24 August, 10 and 21 September and 9 October, in which we also requested a meeting to discuss the judicial measures, and in our letter of 14 December 2012. The Minister has, unfortunately, failed to respond to any of our initiatives.
Only someone who has never worked in a court or a prosecution office can belittle this issue. The widespread fears are so concerning that even the Minister noted them during his visits to courts and publicly commented on them recently. These fears will not disappear of their own accord, but only once the judiciary is assured that the members of the HJC/SPC are its genuine representatives safeguarding their independence, not the channels by which the executive exerts its influence on the judiciary.
Apart from designing the Judicial Reform Strategy, the judiciary and the HJC/SPC are to conduct a number of other strategically important activities:
- Nomination and election of court presidents, which is three years overdue; all the courts have been run by acting court presidents for over three years now
- Assignment of judges to new courts
- Development of the procedure to assess the required number of judges and ensure that judges and courts have even workloads
- Case weighting
- Evaluation of the performance of judges and court presidents, which is nearly four years overdue
- Appointment of judicial performance evaluation bodies
- Improvement of the judicial appointment procedure
- Improvement of the judicial training system
- And a number of other measures regarding the drafting and enforcement of laws
All this necessitates the existence of judicial bodies, the members of which will be lawfully appointed and enjoy undisputable legitimacy and trust of both the judges and society.
The present-day HJC members have forfeited the legitimacy and trust irretrievably, whereas they were never lawful, because one third of the judges and prosecutors were prohibited from voting or running in the judicial elections for seats on the Councils. Keeping them in office and charging them with these crucial issues would cast a shadow on everything being done and would give rise to doubts, if not even the belief, that the authorities want to abuse them and manage the judiciary through them.
The Management Board has asked me to notify it of this Working Group’s responses to the following questions, a task it has, indeed, been entrusted with under Guideline 4.3.4 of the Draft Strategy:
- Does the Working Group share the view of the JAS and Association of Prosecutors that the election of HJC/SPC members from the ranks of judges and prosecutors is the priority issue, which means that the HJC/SPC in their current convocations cannot render decisions on activities I have just listed?
- Will it adopt a conclusion specifying the re-election of the HJC/SPC members without delay as the short-term goal and the amendment of the Laws on the HJC and SPC as the medium-term goal of the Strategy?
The involvement of the JAS in the further activities of the Working Group charged with developing the Strategy will depend on the responses to these questions, which ought to lay the foundations of judicial independence and the independence of the judicial administrative bodies.
As soon as the elections of the new Council members are called, the JAS will be prepared to invest its knowledge, experience and enthusiasm, like it always has, and fully join in the Group’s work and in all other reform activities with a view to creating conditions for an independent and accountable judiciary the citizens will trust.
Member of the National Judicial Reform Strategy Working Group
Judges’ Association of Serbia Chairwoman