2021 - Serbia Judical Functional Review
2021 - Serbia Judical Functional Review

Overall Conclusions and Suggested Priorities

  1. Overall, Serbia's judicial system has implemented many reforms since 2014. However, the reforms did not significantly impact the performance outside of efficiency of case processing, and Serbia's performance falls below that of comparator European countries. This is partially due to an absence of sufficiently strong governance structures and frequently changing laws but also relates to a lack of communication with citizens and businesses. The main reform results identified through the Judicial Functional Review are presented below.

Diagram, timeline Description automatically generated with medium confidence

  1. Most of the recommendations listed in the 2014 Judicial Functional Review remain unfulfilled. The suggested priorities that require continued emphasis include:
  • developing a performance framework that tracks the performance of courts and Public Prosecutor's Offices (PPOs) against a targeted list of key performance indicators.
  • ensuring that courts use the full functionality of their case management system to improve consistent application of law and consistency of practice;
  • developing a comprehensive continuing training program for judges, prosecutors, and court staff;
  • reforming procedural laws to simplify the service of process and business processes; and
  • developing a more realistic and transparent budget within the existing resource envelope that promotes improvements in efficiency, quality of justice, and access to the judiciary.
  1. Critically, the division of responsibilities between the key governing bodies remains unclear. The fragmentation of governance and management responsibilities stalls progress and dilutes accountability. This is true in areas such as budget planning, process re-engineering, human resources, and ICT and infrastructure improvements. The adoption of Constitutional amendments in February 2022 presents an opportunity for improvement in this area. However, implementing the new governance arrangement will require the preparation and adoption of laws and bylaws in line with the Constitutional amendments, which are planned for early 2023.
  2. On a positive note, in recent years, the efficiency of the judicial system has improved:
  • The total disposition time of Serbian courts decreased significantly by 47 percent, from 580 days in 2014 to 274 in 2020;
  • Since 2014, the backlog of old utility bill enforcement cases has been resolved;
  • The Law on Enforcement and Security transferred the responsibility for a significant part of enforcement cases from courts to private bailiffs.
  1. However, despite improvements in the speed of case processing, the pending stock of court cases has increased. The available data do not distinguish between judicial performance and increased demand for court services – which is outside the control of the judiciary – as an explanation for this increase in the demand.
  2. In addition, significant variations in efficiency across courts, in terms of efficiency, quality, workload, and service delivery, remain excessive. The workload is not equally distributed, leaving some courts very busy and others demonstrably less so. For example, in 2019, in Dimitrovgrad, a Basic Court judge received an average of 245 cases and resolved 317, while a Basic Court judge in Lebane received an average of 1,468 cases and resolved 1,487.
  3. The legal framework for access to justice has improved due to the adoption of the Law on Free Legal Aid. However, local governments have not allocated adequate budget resources for its implementation, while public awareness of free legal services remains very low. Procedures for court fee waivers are still not unified, resulting in inconsistent access to justice. Attorney fees are more highly prescribed than in most of EU member states. For instance, attorneys continue to be paid per hearing or motion, which can encourage needless procedural steps.
  4. Finally, resources are still not allocated efficiently across Serbia's judicial sector. Despite progress in aligning human resource management procedures with EU standards, there is no evidence of a strategic approach to managing human resources – the judiciary's largest resource by far - in the Serbian court and prosecution system. The staffing levels for judges, prosecutors, and staff appeared to be set in an ad hoc manner. This results in large variations in costs per active case across the judicial system and within the courts and PPOs of the same level. An absence of interoperability between Case Management Systems and budget execution systems prevented detailed tracking of expenses per case.
  5. Of the many findings and recommendations outlined in the Report, the Functional Review team suggests focusing on the following three priorities, which can set the Serbian judiciary on a path to performance improvement. Without significant progress in these priority areas, the sector will likely be unable to achieve the kind of transformation that would be necessary to align performance with that of EU Member States.
  1. Develop a result framework that tracks the performance of courts and PPOs against a targeted list of key performance indicators. The result framework should include the most relevant indicators of efficiency, quality, and access to justice. The development and use of result framework by Court Presidents, Supreme Court of Cassation, Heads of PPOs, RPPO, HJC, and SPC will lead to improvement in efficiency and increased accountability.
  2. Reform judicial package of laws to align it with 2022 Constitutional amendments to strengthen independence and integrity of judiciary. Amendments to the judicial package should be in line with Venice Commission opinions and Consultative Council of European Judges (CCJE) and Consultative Council of European Prosecutors (CCPE) recommendations to protect Councils, courts, and PPOs' independence and prevent any undue influence on the judiciary.
  3. Ensure the full implementation of digitalization of the justice system through the roll-out of automatized case management systems in courts and PPOs and their interoperability. Governance of the various digitalization efforts in the justice system will require special attention. The process should be chaired by the Ministry of Justice, with the active participation of other judicial stakeholders. In addition, sector leaders in the HJC, SCC, SPC, and RPPO should coordinate the implementation of the ongoing and future digitalization of the justice system. The MOJ together with the HJC and SPC should develop an ICT security standard to support the security standardization work of the judiciary. Digitalization of justice should contribute to the increase of accessibility and transparency of the judiciary. Furthermore, the adequate use of the ICT to improve efficiency will contribute to reducing pending stock and decreasing disposition time.