Serbia Justice Functional Review
External Performance Assessment > Access to Justice Services
g. Equality of Access for Vulnerable groups
- 56 percent of the citizens surveyed consider the judiciary equally accessible to all citizens, regardless of their age, socio-economic status, nationality, disability, and language. However, 38 percent of reported that it is not equally accessible to all. Similarly, 59 percent of business sector representatives consider the judicial system equally accessible to all companies, while 35 percent of the latter do not share this opinion.
- Compared with population average, citizens with less education (elementary school and lower) and citizens over 60 years of age perceive the judicial system as less accessible to them in all aspects, including costs. Citizens who live outside urban areas experience more difficulties in obtaining necessary information, finding their way in the courthouse, and distance of the courthouse. These responses point to the need for providing specific assistance to targeted populations.
- Individuals with intellectual and mental health disabilities experience significant disadvantage in their access to justice services. The process by which individuals can be deprived of their legal capacity is not as stringent as European and international standards require.588 Research conducted in 2011 indicates that a hearing by a judge is conducted in only around 12 percent of all cases.589 This appears to contradict the requirement that such hearings may be dispensed for exceptional cases only.590 In 94 percent of deprivation of capacity cases, individuals are deprived of all their legal capacities. This contradicts the CoE Principles Concerning the Legal Protection of Incapable Adults, which states that different degrees of incapacity should be recognized, and that measures of protection should not automatically result in a complete removal of legal capacity.591 Recent amendments in May 2014 to the Act on Non-Contentious Proceedings introduced periodic re-assessments of capacity at least once every three years, a move towards compliance. Stakeholders expressed concern that social welfare centers, which act as legal guardians in many cases, are under-resourced and may visit their wards less than once per year. The procedure for wards to challenge their deprivation of liberty and re-assess their capacity is also opaque, and it is not clear whether individuals can apply on their own behalf. Some CSOs are supporting applicants to do, so citing ECHR jurisprudence, though those without CSO support would likely be unable to contest their status.
- Gender disparities are minimal: there is no significant difference between the proportion of men and women who would decide to bring a case to court when they think that court was the proper forum for resolution. Approximately 8 percent of men and 2 percent of women decided not to bring a case to court even though they believed court was the proper forum.592
- The only significant difference between women and men respondents in perceived barriers to access was found in lawyer-related costs. Considerably, more women (81 percent) than men (71 percent) stated that lawyer-related costs would be relevant to their decision to take a dispute to court. This is also the only problem women mentioned more than the population as a whole.
- Members of focus groups from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender population (LGBT) are less likely than others to file cases to protect themselves or punish those who have harmed them. Most cases related to violation of LGBT rights have been started with active participation of an NGO. Anonymity in court cases is a common reason, and many LGBT citizens, especially those in small communities, are reluctant to ‘come out’ in a public forum. Others are afraid of retaliation from their alleged harassers, and experienced activists who follow court proceedings are deeply pessimistic.594
- Members of the Roma community, refugees, and internally displaced persons (IDPs) share the opinion that courts do not treat all members of the public equally.595 As courts do not collect data on users’ personal characteristics, the Review is unable to substantiate whether this perception is rooted in reality or due to an outdated perception retained from the past. There may be a case for strengthening the dissemination of information to relevant CSOs and community leaders about the functioning of the judiciary and basic legal rights directed to these groups to break down perceived barriers.596