“The judicial reform has remained an important priority of the Republic of Serbia. However, restoring the trust in the system was not a matter to be achieved over night “, Nela Kuburovic – the Justice Minister – stated today at the Annual Judges’ Conference in Vrnjacka Banja which was organised by the Supreme Court of Cassation. Kuburovic highlighted that the substantial reforms should not be swift, that they required time and coordinated guidance of all the participants and available resources towards the tasked objectives, further requiring all to make efforts to implement the reform activities as successfully as possible in the upcoming period.  

“Today, we are on the second half of the journey of fulfilling the measures we have defined in the National Judicial Reform Strategy for the period 2013-2018. Concurrently, we are at the beginning of our reporting on the Negotiation Chapter 23 Action Plan Activities Implementation which had been set as a foundation for the overall negotiations process“, Kuburovic said. In that regard – she continued –, the performance and the results would be evaluated by entrepreneurs, investors, community of experts and the European Union on the basis of clearly defined mechanisms; and most notably and importantly by the citizens in showing their trust in the judicial system.

“Aware of many wrong steps having been taken in the past with reference to amendments to the normative framework, the Ministry of Justice has recently adopted a new approach to drafting bills“, the Minister declared. She added that a practice of holding public hearings had been introduced, as well as the inclusivity of the bills drafting process notable in the participation of all the relevant and interested parties, including those from the civil society sector and professional associations.

Kuburovic stressed that, bearing in mind inefficiency had long been presenting a problem   in the judicial system, a set of measures for ensuring trials within reasonable time and unburdening the courts had been adopted. To give examples, she mentioned the improvement of procedural laws, setting up an electronic judicial system and the strengthening of the infrastructural capacities.

Speaking about the unburdening of the courts, Kuburovic referred to the Ministry’s successful cooperation with the Supreme Court of Cassation over the course of the current year, which resulted in instructions to the application of the new Enforcement and Security Proceedings Act being adopted which were aimed at preparing the courts to hear cases in accordance with the Act. “It is with pleasure that I can say that we will have as many as 900,000 of old enforcement cases finalised by the end of the year, precisely owing to the coordinated work of the three institutions with the basic courts”, she stated. 

She added that the joint work of the institutions also resulted in the adoption of instructions for the application of the provisions referring to the public notaries’ competencies of acting as court representatives in, particularly, inheritance dispute cases. She expressed hope that the courts would demonstrate greater willingness in the upcoming period to delegate inheritance disputes to public notaries – all for the purpose of unburdening the courts.

The Minister stressed that the strengthening of the public notary and bailiffs systems together with the new framework for dispute resolution by mediation ought to create conditions for the courts to perform efficiently, be unburdened from tasks which, in the narrow sense, did not constitute the conducting of proceedings.

In addition to strengthening judicial professions, in particular the mediation, Kuburovic said that one of the Ministry of Justice priorities was to improve the working conditions for those employed in the judiciary by way of reinforcing the judicial infrastructure. On that note, she specified that in just over two years, over 60,000 square meters of space for courts and public prosecutors’ offices had been refurbished.

The Minister added that works were being done on four facilities required by judicial institutions (Uzice, Kraljevo, Sombor and Lazarevac), with new investments - which were to cover the refurbishment of the Palace of Serbia in Belgrade and the construction of new buildings in Pozarevac and Pancevo - expected by the end of the year. “We can expect many challenges in the next period, such as the reforming of the Bar Exam and the status of expert witnesses, in the tackling of which we certainly anticipate a strong involvement by the community of experts”, Kuburovic stated.

She also added that the Ministry of Justice was soon planning to specifically regulate the employment-legal status of employees in the judicial organs. She explained that the aim of the new statute was to regulate the status of court staff by having them excluded from the professional categorisation of civil servants and their rights, duties, responsibilities and financial status regulated in detail. Also to be defined in detail - she said - was the trainee judge admissions procedure.

Kuburovic cautioned that the time when all those working in the judiciary ought to bear the responsibility for the future of the courts in Serbia in accordance with the anticipated amendments to the Constitution, was approaching. She believed that this could only be achieved through dialogue and by recognising all the modern international standards of the judicial system.   

She concluded by saying that a long-term balance between independence and accountability of judges was indispensible nowadays, which could be struck by applying clearly defined  rule of law instruments and rules stating individual’s duties and roles clearly in place.