Serbia Justice Functional Review

External Performance Assessment > Access to Justice Services

a. Introduction

  1. The focus of this Chapter of the Performance Assessment is on access to justice services, including relevant financial, informational, and geographic barriers to such access.488 The EC emphasizes the importance of enhanced access in justice system reform, and relevant European standards discussed below detail how effective access requires a fair and speedy trial, certain and swift enforcement procedures, access to legal representation, and the promotion of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms.
  2. Access to justice is also an economic development concern, as constraints on access to justice appear to create a drag on businesses. Around one-third of business sector representatives with experience with court cases reported the judicial system to be a great obstacle for their business operations and 30 percent as moderate obstacle (see Figure 97).489
  1. In comparison with the rest of Europe, Serbia appears to have a problem with access to justice. According to the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index 2014, Serbia ranks the lowest among the EU and non-EU neighboring countries in terms of accessibility and affordability of the civil justice system (see graphs below).
  1. As demand for access to justice services may be unlimited, prioritization is therefore important. This Chapter views access via a series of dimensions, such as geographic, informational, and financial. Within that frame, this Chapter focuses on core needs that would address the most significant barriers to access for the poor and vulnerable groups while meeting minimum European requirements.
  2. Access to justice can be challenging to measure in that it requires investigation beyond the data that are found ‘in the system’, and considers barriers preventing individuals from accessing the system. It is important to capture the experiences and behavior of those who typically do not make it into the system.491 To do so, the Review complements the statistical data found in the system with analysis from secondary sources, robust surveys, focus group discussions, and extensive interviews and field visits. The Chapter seeks to assess the system from an unseasoned court user’s perspective – an average Serbian citizen experiencing a justice problem, and weighing whether the courts offer a pathway to solve it.492

Box 13: What Deters People from Using Court Services?

According to the 2014 Access to Justice Survey, citizens do what they can to avoid the court system. Nearly 63 percent of respondents indicated that, had they had a dispute that they thought should be settled in court, they would nevertheless decide against pursuing it or would seriously consider not doing so. Court and lawyer costs, concerns about likely delay in court proceedings, and lack of trust in the judicial system are the primary reasons cited as deterring individuals from using court services. In the 2013 Multi-Stakeholder Justice Survey, members of the public with experience in the court system cited similar concerns with access to justice.

Notably, members of the public with court experience expressed greater concern with nearly every aspect of court accessibility than those without court experience. This suggests that improving access to justice requires going beyond merely demystifying courts or raising awareness about access to court services. Rather, it requires efforts that substantively address the barriers actually experienced by court users. Each of the reasons that citizens cite is addressed in this Chapter.