“Justice sector reform has started to show results, but its full effects are expected in the period to come”, stated Minister of Justice Snežana Malović for B92.
In her New Year interview for B92 she stated that she expected improvement in the efficiency of civil suits.
Malović assessed year 2010 as rather successful particularly regarding the goals set by the Government of Serbia and the Ministry of Justice, of a more intensive fight against organized crime and corruption, and European integration.
"We have done a lot, and, if we are speaking of justice sector reform, which is a prerequisite for both goals – the fight against crime and European integration - I feel that we have set a very good foundation. Of course the challenges have been great, but I feel that we have responded appropriately, which represents an incentive for further work,” stated Minister Malović.
B92: The reelection issue has caused the most heated discussions by the public. More than 800 judges appealed to the Constitutional Court and are waiting for the outcome, and judging by the first ruling, it is to be expected that others will be passed in the same way, i.e. the whole process will be returned to the beginning. What is your view of all of this?
Malović: I would like to stress that reform does not only cover the general election, but other phases as well…
B92: However, this issue proved to be the greatest problem…
Malović: Yes, yes, exactly, the change of procedural laws, organization of work and the change of mindset. The general election issue is not just an issue of judges who were not elected and I object to the reform being boiled down to just one of its oarts. I am not saying that this issue is unimportant, of course it is important, it is in the focus of the public eye, and yes, it needs to be resolved. Incorrect facts have been circulated in public, which made the process more complicated, leading to wrong conclusions sometimes. I firmly believe that the laws we have adopted will remove all doubts over the general election procedure.
B92: You announced that the permanent bodies of the High Judicial Council and the State Prosecutors Council would be instituted by the end of March, and that they would take over the appeals of the judges who were not elected. Experts say that you are, in this way, violating the Constitution.
Malović: I firmly believe that these legal provisions are in keeping with the Constitution, however if an initiative is submitted we will see what the Constitutional Court will have to say about it. These appeals will be viewed as objections and I am sure that the High Judicial Council will be more dynamic and quicker than the Constitutional Court, as in the last year we have had only two rulings regarding the judges who were not elected, and I am sure that this issue will finally be resolved. However, this does not exclude the possibility of appeal. If such a decision is confirmed by the HJC upon an objection being submitted, the dissatisfied party will naturally have the right to appeal to the Constitutional Court, and this cannot be ruled out by the law or by any individual decision, this is simply the application of the Constitution.
B92: Why have you waited so long to admit to the mistake? Information first arrived from Stefan Fule in March, but you released this information at the end of the summer. At that point you knew that what you were doing had been proposed as early as March, i.e. to review the process and correct the mistakes.
Malović: I would not call it a mistake, but an insufficient number of procedural steps were taken, which cast a doubt on the election procedure. But these omissions led people to have doubt in the general election procedure, and I agree that steps need to be taken, and they will be.
B92: But it remains unclear why, while work was being done to rectify the omissions, mistakes, or whatever they are called, the public kept receiving the information: We have done our work well.”…
Malović: I still feel that we have done a good job and I am not ashamed of the decisions we made.
B92: But when you saw the criticism of the European Commission, did it not seem to you that something was not going well and that you were wrong?
Malović: This is exactly what I am saying, the issue of procedure has been put forward and it will be resolved.
B92: In the legal system, procedure is very important…
Malović: Yes, yes it is. However, let’s go back to why we initiated reform to begin with. The Government and the Ministry did not consider carrying out a general election; we only came to that conclusion after performing an analysis. I will remind you that in 1999, party quotas existed in the Government. Do you think that we can fight organized crime and corruption and make the judiciary more efficient and protect investments through commercial courts, if we have unprofessional and unworthy judges? Of course we cannot and our goal was that such people are not part of the judiciary system.
B92: One of the key reform goals is for the length of trials to be reasonable. How much success has been made in that respect in the last year, and is the pace that the judiciary has started with appropriate?
Malović: I would say that we have started to achieve these goals and this stems from our works initials results, which, after six months’ time, show that procedure is more efficient in the Commercial Court, which is important for the protection of investments. Also, they show that procedure has become much more efficient in the justice sector’s criminal department, and it remains to be seen whether we have achieved the same results in the civil courts, i.e. litigation.
B92: How does it seem to you at this point?
Malović: To be completely open, it is not only a matter of the judges’s work and how their work is organized, but also an issue of the law, and the fact that the person who signs off on the laws of procedure carries a great responsibility. For instance, at the end of last year the proposal regarding the Law on Enforcement and Security was determined at a Government session. This law is supposed to provide that the enforcement procedure should be more efficient and that it should serve to protect the creditor and not the debtor, as was sometimes the case until now. Also, I expect that the Law on Criminal Procedure will be adopted in the first quarter of this year. This law is expected to bring about a greater efficiency in criminal procedure. We have also started preparation of the Law on Civil Procedure which is supposed to contribute to changing the mindset of people, the transition from the state and social establishment, which has been in force until recently and which has, unfortunately, remained in place in the decision making process, to the new and modern way of decision making.
B92: When is this law expected to be on the agenda?
Malović: During this year. It is important that it should be of high quality and set properly and not just completed post haste. It is important that it should take the proper direction, particularly regarding criminal justice and business/commercial courts and we shall also intensify our work on civil procedures and their efficiency.
B92: When do you expect the full effects of the reform?
Malović: The full effects of the reform will be evident in the coming period. You cannot do something in a year’s time and also demonstrate that you have fulfilled everything. We are creating a sound basis for the Serbian justice sector to be efficient in the future. I am very satisfied that we have introduced computers and networking into all Serbian courts, so finally in Serbia we know how many cases are pending, which was not known earlier. We can now see exactly how many old cases there are in the criminal and civil departments, what the state of affairs is at the level of every court, and we have categories: cases lasting up to a year, up to two years, five or ten. In fact, in keeping with our authority, which is broad, and in cooperation with the Supreme Court of Cassation and the High Judicial Council, we will dedicate this entire year to improving efficiency.
B92: And finally, what would be your message to the citizens of Serbia for 2011 and what can they expect in the justice sector?
Malović: Re-establishing citizens’s trust in the Serbian justice system.. What we do, we do for the citizens of Serbia and there can be no improvisation in that respect. The citizens will judge whether we have succeeded in this or not. We will continue on our course. We will work tirelessly and dynamically and I am certain that we will achieve results in this area.