Serbia Justice Functional Review

Summary with Recommendations

c. Human Resource Management

Main Findings

  1. A strategic approach to human resources (HR) management is not evident in the Serbian judiciary. To enable the judiciary to transform in line with EU practice, the Serbian judiciary requires a renewed focus on performance, productivity and investment in human potential.
  2. Serbia has one of the highest ratios of judges-to-population in all of Europe, along with a very high ratio of staff-to-judges.
    Serbia has one of the highest ratios of judges-to-population in all of Europe, along with a very high ratio of staff-to-judges. A lack of planning and constraints in resource deployment explain in part the suboptimal system performance. Key problems with human resources management are as follows:
    1. Judges, prosecutors and staff are added to prior staffing levels in an ad hoc manner, rather than based on objective demand or caseloads;92
    2. Staffing complements are set without reference to an overall resource rationalization plan;
    3. There is in effect no national judiciary or prosecution service. Appointments and hiring are localized, resulting in groups of human resources in each court or PPO. Once appointed, judges, prosecutors, and civil service staff cannot be moved without their consent from low to high demand courts, or to other entities that have absorbed functions formerly performed in the courts. Few mechanisms exist to incentivize that consent.
    4. In addition to the large existing staff, large numbers of temporary staff and volunteers create a ‘shadow workforce’. Selection is reportedly based on patronage, and their performance goes largely unmonitored. Their net contribution is likely to be marginal, and their presence often distracts more experienced staff from core functions, and turnover is high, resulting in a loss of corporate memory. In all, the shadow workforce destabilizes court operations, impedes integrated resource planning, and inhibits longer term efficiency.
    5. There is insufficient funding to support other expenditures (such as infrastructure or ICT), which would better support people to perform at a higher standard. Unnecessary rigidities in resource allocation within the sector prevent managers from making positive trade-offs between personnel and other expenditures (such as applying savings from personnel vacancies to cover training or operating costs).
  3. The demand/supply balance already suggests overstaffing, and no judicial appointments should be made nor should vacancies be filled until the number of judges
    Setting the appropriate number and properly allocating judges, prosecutors, and staff between courts and PPOs in line with caseload will improve the efficiency of the judiciary and provide more equitable public access. The demand/supply balance already suggests overstaffing, and no judicial appointments should be made nor should vacancies be filled until the number of judges falls by attrition. Furthermore, a freeze should be put in place in most areas of staffing and a staff reduction plan be developed, focusing on low- skilled ancillary staff and registry staff that previously performed verification services. The ‘shadow workforce’ of temporary staff and volunteers should be reduced. The human resources already in the system need to be used more effectively, and investments should be made in their training. Meanwhile, the Serbian judiciary requires new mechanisms for determining the appropriate level of court staffing, taking into consideration workloads, performance, and the goals of transformation. Consolidating the responsibility for the number and deployment of judges, prosecutors, and non-judge/prosecutor staff should greatly enhance resource planning. The Councils should immediately build their capacities to carry out this critical task.
  4. The allocation of funding between positions, personnel needs, and other inputs (e.g., technology) needs a significant shift within the overall budget envelope. The system needs fewer low-level ancillary staff and should abolish lay judges who drain resources and do not contribute to service delivery. In its place, the system should invest in and foster specialized and analytic roles, such as judicial and prosecutorial assistants, advisors, court managers, court secretaries, planners, IT administrators, and statisticians. Investments in ICT, infrastructure and process re-engineering are needed to enable better skilled people to work to higher standards.
  5. The judicial system should create an attractive and viable career path for high-performing assistants to advance to key managerial (non-judge) positions in the courts in a new system that values mid-level management.
    In particular, judicial and prosecutorial assistants make an important contribution to sector performance, and they deserve special attention in HR reforms. Currently, they do not receive any formal training, and there are few mechanisms in place for their objective evaluation or promotion. Yet they provide critical support to judges and the court administration in processing cases. Many assistants aspire to work in their role only temporarily as a ‘stepping stone’ to becoming judges or prosecutors. This aspiration is unrealistic (and perhaps always was) in a system that already has an excess supply of judges, falling caseloads and shrinking mandates. Yet their skills and corporate memory are valuable to the sector. The judicial system should create an attractive and viable career path for high-performing assistants to advance to key managerial (non-judge) positions in the courts93 in a new system that values mid-level management. It should also provide training and re-skilling to enable these judicial assistants to align their aspirations with that of a modern judiciary.
  6. Progress is underway in developing a system for the evaluation and discipline of judges. Rules for the evaluation of judges and prosecutors were adopted in 2014 after much delay. Although these rules are arguably too lenient and vague, they provide a frame for measuring performance and could be strengthened over time. Further work is also needed to link evaluation to promotion and career progression. Incentives should be built into both systems to encourage judges and prosecutors to develop their skills through continuing training and to demonstrate a track record of performance. An education program with judges and prosecutors may be useful to encourage this kind of cultural change.
  7. The Academy should focus more on continuing training and lead a large-scale capacity building initiative for judges, prosecutors, assistants and court staff alike.
    There is an acute need for training and capacity building across the Serbian judiciary. The Judicial Academy has in the past been overly focused on the initial training of new judges, despite the system already having too many judges, falling caseloads and shrinking mandates. Looking forward, the Academy should focus more on continuing training and lead a large- scale capacity building initiative for judges, prosecutors, assistants and court staff alike. Training could cover all aspects relevant to the transformation to a modern European judiciary, based on a comprehensive training needs assessment.
  8. Continuing training should cover all aspects relevant to the transformation to a modern European judiciary, based on a comprehensive training needs assessment.
    Overall, the judiciary needs clearer assignment of responsibility for human resources policy making, more sophisticated management, and better-defined systems for human resources. It is incumbent on the HJC and SPC to take the lead on most of these matters.

Recommendations and Next Steps

Recommendation 35:
Impose a hiring freeze for judges and do not fill judicial vacancies until a rigorous and transparent methodology is developed to determine the needed number of judges. If adjustments are required, transfer judges with their consent or promote judges within the system to prevent any increase in the total number of judges. Work within the budget process to re-allocate funds earmarked for the salaries of judicial vacancies to more productive areas, such as mid-level specialist staff, ICT and infrastructure.
94 The HJC should implement this freeze immediately and maintain it for the medium term until the HJC develops a rigorous methodology to determine the number of needed judges and articulates that methodology. The number of judges needed is likely to be well below the current number of sitting judges, so a process of attrition will be required.

  • Impose a freeze on filling judicial vacancies. If vacancies arise in higher ranks, fill them through promotion of judges from lower ranks. Do not fill the vacancies at lower ranks, given falling demand. (HJC, SCC – short term and ongoing)
  • Gradually reduce the wage bill over time by attrition – i.e. not replacing retiring or departing judges. (HJC – short term and ongoing)
  • If needs arise, transfer existing judicial assistants from less-busy courts to busier courts of the same court level within the same appellate region. (HJC, SCC – medium term)95
  • Work within the budget process to re-allocate funding for unfilled judicial positions to other priority expenditures, such as investments in managerial capacity, training, ICT upgrades and infrastructure improvements. (HJC, SCC, MOJ with approval of MOF – medium term)
  • Request the consent of existing judges to be appointed as substitute judges in courts of the same court level within the same appellate region. Transfer judges temporarily with their consent, where needs arise. (HJC – medium term)
  • Create incentives for judges to consent to transfers and be appointed as substitutes, including financial incentives and consideration in future promotion processes. (HJC, SCC – medium term)
  • Establish a rigorous and transparent methodology at the central level to determine the number of judges needed, taking into account, inter alia, population, geography, demand for court services, demand by case type, domestic legal requirements, recent reforms to court mandates, and the experience of comparator EU Member States. (HJC, SCC – medium term)

Recommendation 36:
Determine staffing objectively and in line with European experience, and adjust staffing when circumstances change.
96 Reduce temporary employees and ‘shadow’ staff. Costs would be moderate in the short term, but reforms would produce significant savings.

  • Analyze non-judge staffing needs in the courts based on caseload and economies of scale. Examine outliers to identify immediate staff reductions through layoffs or longer term through attrition. (HJC, SPC, MOJ – short term) Develop a staff reduction program in the courts and PPOs, focusing on rationalizing staff in accordance with the changing mandates of courts (i.e. targeting redundancies of land registry staff, verification staff etc.) and reducing or outsourcing ancillary staff whose roles do not contribute to case processing (cleaners, drivers, typists, registry staff, maintenance staff, carpenters etc.). (HJC, SPC, MOJ – short term)
  • Offer incentives to staff to move from the courts to the Executive Branch or PPOs as a preferred alternative to layoffs. (HJC, SPC, MOJ – short term)
  • Strictly limit reasons for hiring temporary or contract employees. Standardize reporting on numbers, roles, and costs of the shadow workforce. (MOJ – short term)
  • Freeze all volunteer appointments and phase out the volunteer program in courts and PPOs. (SCC – short term)
  • Create formulas for determining funds and number of case processing staff per judge and administrative staff based on units of work (e.g., standard number of ICT people per device supported). Establish transparent justifications for deviations from the staffing levels set in the standards. Address staffing levels of administration and public employees in the medium term. (MOJ – short to medium term, with HJC advising prior to 2016.)
  • Create a more sophisticated staffing needs/norms model considering the impact of statutory, administrative, or technological changes on staff needs and include other civil servants and public employees. (HJC – long term)

Recommendation 37:
Establish systems to select, evaluate, and promote the most qualified judges to enhance quality, increase efficiency and public trust in the judiciary.97 Use the evaluation and promotion system to recognize good performance and incentivize innovation. Develop and apply remedial actions, including mandatory re-training, for low-performing judges.
Implementation of recently-adopted evaluation rules should be the focus in the short term.

  • Clarify performance evaluation procedures, including how evaluation ratings will be used to make decisions about probation, promotion and discipline. This will entail changes to both statutes and evaluation rules. (HJC, National Assembly – medium term)
  • Establish criteria and rules for filling vacant Court President positions so that temporary appointments, if necessary, are for only a short duration. (HJC – medium term)
  • Implement the recently-adopted rules on the criteria, standards and procedure for promotion and performance appraisal of judges. (HJC – short term)
  • Consider tightening the rules in the following manner (HJC – medium term):
    • Establish more rigorous standards for the achievement of a satisfactory rating;
    • Reduce the periods of evaluation for probationary judges to ease the administrative burden on evaluation panels;
    • Include evaluation criteria that create incentives to improve system performance, including participation in training, mentoring of less-experienced judges and participation in task forces and working groups;
    • Give preference in promotions to judges who have served in multiple courts or voluntarily worked on backlog reduction in their own or other courts.
  • Provide evaluation panels with sufficient support staff to compile information against evaluation criteria, to facilitate panels in the conduct of performance reviews. (HJC – short term)
  • Conduct an education campaign for judges about the skill enhancement and promotional purposes of evaluations. (HJC – medium term)

Recommendation 38:
Conduct a comprehensive training needs analysis for existing judges, prosecutors and court staff. Re-balance the focus of the Judicial Academy towards continuing training, and design and implement a significant continuing training program for all judges, prosecutors and staff.
98 Enhanced continuous training for judges and assistants should commence in the short term. The significant injection of training will require a moderate investment.

  • Reduce the initial training intakes until a transparent and rigorous methodology has been developed to determine the number of needed judges and legal issues raised in the recent Constitutional Court decision have been resolved. (HJC, SPC, JA – short term)
  • Rebalance the Judicial Academy budget by reducing funding for initial training activities and increasing funding for continuing training activities. Shift the focus of staff towards the preparing continuing training activities. (JA, MOJ – short term)
  • Conduct a comprehensive training needs assessment for existing judges, prosecutors, and staff. (JA, HJC, SPC, MOJ – short to medium term)
  • Focus the Academy as a training center developing rigorous, consistent, and effective training materials and methods, using lessons from the European Judicial Training Network (EJTN) as a guide. (JA, HJC, SPC, MOJ – short term)
  • Adopt a skills-based training program for court staff to enhance performance in their current roles. (JA, HJC – medium term)
  • Create a training plan and provide government-sponsored training to other employees (e.g., Court Managers, registry staff). (JA – medium term)
  • Raise the standards of the initial training curriculum and evaluation. (JA, HJC, SPC – medium term)

Recommendation 39:
Develop effective, efficient, and transparent disciplinary measures to ensure quality of justice and effective access to justice.
99 Each of these recommendations is relatively inexpensive; reducing the number of complaints could result in the Disciplinary Prosecutor and Commission becoming more cost-effective.

  • Ensure adequate staffing of disciplinary departments in the HJC and SPC, and consider increasing their salaries commensurate with their responsibilities. Reduce delays in the application of disciplinary procedures. Provide training on disciplinary procedures to judges, prosecutors and court staff. (JA, HJC, SPC – medium term)
  • Issue opinions with practical examples of permissible/impermissible conduct, including online FAQs about ethics. (HJC – short term)
  • Analyze the outcomes of complaints processes at a systemic level, and use data to inform future reforms. (HJC – long term)

Recommendation 40: Consolidate HR policy development in the HJC and promote a professional, properly-managed staff within Courts.100 This should conform with the CCJE adjudication standards and promote efficiency101 in accordance with the Bangalore principles.102 While some steps could begin immediately, most tasks are medium term. Centralized staffing and performance pay are long term efforts. These tasks are generally low cost, but some require the addition of a moderate number of staff to the HJC.

  • Invest in mid-level analytical staff in the courts with an additional benefit of creating an attractive career path in court administration for judicial assistants and court staff. Consider a regional approach for analytical tasks for smaller courts. (HJC – medium term)
  • Create a detailed position description, specific evaluation process and career path for judicial assistants (from junior to senior assistant and on to advisor). Develop specific evaluation criteria and a rigorous evaluation process for judicial assistants that recognize their contributions to system performance. (SCC in consultation with HJC – short term)
  • Build capacity within the Councils to take responsibility for the use and number of civil servants and employees. Adjust the systematization by reducing the number of court classifications to allow flexible deployment. (HJC, MOJ – short term)
  • Codify that the HJC and SPC (with dedicated HR units) will be responsible for non-fiscal aspects of court employee policy development. (National Assembly, HJC, SPC, MOJ – short term)
  • Establish uniform civil servant and labor processes for non-judge employees (uniform judicial-sector job descriptions, position-specific recruitment and selection methods, performance evaluations with standardized rankings); identify training needs and candidates for succession. (HJC– medium term)
  • Identify the source of reluctance in certain courts to utilize Court Managers; raise awareness of the how Court Managers are successfully utilized in some courts. Establish standard duties and qualifications for Court Managers. (HJC – medium term)
  • Introduce periodic reviews of performance evaluations by a centralized authority to ensure procedures are followed. (HJC– long term)