Serbia judges want more transparency, independence, higher pay

Nela Kuburovic (R), the Minister of Justice of Serbia, attends a UN Nations Security Council meetinge in New York on 6 December 2017 [Justin Lane/EPA-EFE]

There is a widespread lack of trust among judges and prosecutors in Serbia in the process of electing judiciary officials and climbing the career ladder, with eight out of ten believing that those processes are steered by connections and nepotism as much as by objective criteria.

Three quarters of judges and prosecutors in the European Union candidate country think the process of appointing judiciary officials is not transparent.

A new survey conducted by the Judicial Academy Alumni Club, called The Opinions of Judges and Prosecutors on the Judiciary in Serbia, has shown that both the judges and prosecutors in Serbia are unhappy with their salaries and burdened by an excessive number of cases.

The European Union has invested €93m in judicial reform projects in Serbia over the past 11 years. It has also stressed that an independent and efficient judiciary is key to improving the rule of law, an essential criteria on Serbia’s road to EU membership.

On a scale of one to five, judges rated Serbia’s judiciary 2.67 while prosecutors gave it  2.58. Both the judges (74%) and prosecutors (82%) highlighted heavy workload, which they said affects the quality of their work.

At the same time, the vast majority of judicial employees are not satisfied with the existing performance appraisal system and eight out of ten believe that there should be monthly norms as the basis for evaluation of their work.

Judicial employees are the least happy with their salaries – nine out of ten judges and prosecutors say that their salary does not provide “a sufficient level” of material security to guarantee their independence.

The Judicial Academy Alumni Club survey was conducted from April to June on a sample of 1,218 judges from 83 courts of all ranks except the Supreme Court of Cassation and 385 public prosecutors from 47 prosecutors’ offices of all ranks except the State Public Prosecutor’s Office.

Serbia is currently debating the need for constitutional changes related to the judiciary, with the aim of establishing an efficient and functional judiciary free of political influences, as well as restoring citizens’ trust in the judicial system.

Justice Minister Nela Kuburović said on 11 December that the Serbian judiciary was independent and was improving its efficiency.

Kuburović said that the constitutional framework should strengthen the independence of courts and public prosecutors by eliminating the influence of politicians on the process of appointing judiciary officials.

Serbia opened two the negotiating chapters in its EU talks this week – on company law and external relations – and EU officials said it was a sign of Belgrade’s progress toward membership.

EU advances membership talks for Montenegro, Serbia

The EU on Monday (11 December) opened new chapters in its membership talks with Montenegro and Serbia, countries which European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker says he expects to join the bloc by 2025.

But they also pointed out that it was necessary for Serbia to intensify the rule of law reform and make headway in the normalisation of relations with Kosovo, its former province that declared independence in 2008.

Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn said new efforts were needed in reforms aimed at improving the rule of law, strengthening the judiciary and fundamental rights and fighting organised crime, corruption and money laundering.

Serbia has so far opened 12 of the total of 35 chapters in the negotiations with the EU, of which it has temporarily closed two.

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