“The Judicial Reform and Government Accountability Project (JRGA) has provided a comprehensive and very significant support to both the judicial framework reformand the improvementof judicial bodies’ capacity and working conditions“ – Nela Kuburovic, the Justice Minister, declared today at the USAID JRGA Project closing conference.

Kuburovic thanked USAID for the up-to-then given support and expressed hope for the finalisation of the Project to only represent a closing of one chapter,with USAID continuingto be a partner to Serbia and the Ministry of Justice through the implementation of other new initiatives, so that together they would continue to improve the rule of law and strengthen the efficiency, independence and accountability of the judiciary.Kuburovic noted that the JRGA Project was one of the most successful USAID projects in Serbia and that since the beginning of its implementation in 2011, it had been a reliable partner to the Ministry of Justice on its mission to improve the efficiency of the judiciary and the Serbian judicial system reform.

By way of example, she referred to 2014 when the Ministry of Justice had begun the reconstruction works on 29 facilities required for judicial institutions across Serbia, of which 19 had been supported by the JPGA Project. “During the improvement of the judicial infrastructure, special attention was precisely given to the misdemeanour courts in Serbia, as well as the Administrative Court and its departments. Allow me to remind you that at the end of 2015, the Misdemeanour Court in Belgrade had, for the first time since its establishment, gotten its own facility - located today in the Ustanicka Street - to which it had been moved from more than 14 locations. For this important task, we had received great help from our friends on the JRGA Project “, Kuburovic explained.

Additionally – she said –, assistance from the Project was received for the new building of the Misdemeanour Appellate Court in the Kataniceva Street. “Together with the JRGA Project, we have renovated and technically equipped most of the misdemeanour courts in Serbia: Arandjelovac, Kikinda, Loznica, Nis, Novi Sad, Pirot, Prokuplje, Ruma, Valjevo, Zajecar, Zrenjanin and Sabac. I would particularly like to mention the Misdemeanour court in Raska“, Kuburovic highlighted.

Minister Kuburovic stressed that, when discussing Tort Law reform, it was inevitable to stress the greatcontribution by the Project to the drafting of the new Misdemeanour Act which was adopted in 2013 and which came into force in March 2014. She added that this statute had significantly improved the efficiency and the work quality of the misdemeanour courts by way of introducing new legal institutes, such as a misdemeanour warrant and a unified register of misdemeanour sentences and unpaid fines. Also, Project support was not absent from the implementation of the Continued Professional Training of Judges Program, facilitated in order for the statute to be accurately applied in practice.

Furthermore, we established a new case managementinformation system in the misdemeanour courts- SIPRES. This was a database with nearly 2,000 users and over 3.3 million cases. The system was unique for its centralised structure and protocols for information exchange with partners outside the judicial system”, Kuburovic emphasised. She continued to explain that, in addition to it having facilitated a smoother management of cases, the generating of accurate reports and forms in the proceedings thus advancing the efficiency of misdemeanour courts and ensuring the accuracy of statistical work reports, SIPRES had allowed for a timely keeping of the Unpaid Fines Register thereby increasing the collection of fines for misdemeanour by nearly 100 % comparedwith the same period the previous year.Kuburovic announced that the Ministry of Justice would continue advancing SIPRES by connecting it to other judicial and government systems, creating a centralised statistical reporting for the judiciary and installing SIPRES on a data back-up saved in the Nis Appellate Court to ensure the system always run uninterruptedly.

Aside the Misdemeanour Act, joint work with the JRGA was done on the drafting of the Whistleblowers Protection Bill, after the passing of which the Project conducted a training program for over 1,000 judges. The training was aimed at enabling the judges to hear cases involving whistleblowers and have them ensure adequate court protection to whistleblowersagainst retribution.

Similarly, JRGA Project representatives were members of a working group responsible for the drafting of the Prevention of Domestic Violence Bill which - as Kuburovic explained - was soon to be reviewed by deputies and would bring important novelties aimed at the prevention of violence, provision of assistance to victims and closer cooperation between institutions. In this respect, the Ministry of Justice also received Project support in facilitating public hearings on the Bill and creating a website for the accompanying “Eliminate Violence!” campaign. “The purpose of the campaign was to familiarise both the wider community members and the actual or potential victims and perpetrators of domestic violence with the new legal measures, so that they could recognise acts of violence and respond to them appropriately”, Kuburovic explained.

Equally noting the joint efforts on the drafting of the new Anti-Corruption Agency Bill, which was in its final stage of public hearings, Kuburovic invited the academic community to participate in the public hearings.

“All the achieved results I have mentioned, which are not exhaustive, suggest that the cooperation between the Ministry and the Project has been fruitful, one that was motivated by a common desire to improve the quality and the accessibility of justice in Serbia. During this more-than-a-5-year period, we have not only been able to achieve many results, but also learn from each other. I believe we will continue to apply the standards set during the Project implementation to all other Ministry activities”, Kuburovic concluded.