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

1. Governance and Strategic Management

  1. The Review recognizes that Serbia’s judicial system requires governance and management to oversee its performance and plan improvements, and to ensure that financial and other resources are used effectively. As was true for the 2014 Functional Review, this Review uses the terms ‘governance’ and ‘management’ as encompassing related but somewhat different functions:

a. Governance: decision-making at the highest level to set policies, guidelines, rules, targets and plans, and

b. Management: the implementation of decisions in an institution’s day-to-day operations, and the provision of information and analysis to support the governing bodies’ deliberations.1

Main findings ↩︎

  1. The postponement of the Constitutional amendments influenced the pace of the reform of governing bodies. Prolonged delays in constitutional and legislative reforms of the system’s governance and management stunted the judiciary’s efforts to improve its operations until early 2022, when Constitutional amendments were adopted in the Parliament. In the National Judicial Reform Strategy 2013-2018, Serbia formally recognized the need for constitutional and legislative changes to strengthen judicial independence, reduce opportunities for undue influence, make the operation of the system more transparent, improve the efficiency of case processing, and use the system’s financial, information technology and physical resources more efficiently. The planned constitutional amendments and legislative changes were to be completed in 2017.2 However, most of these measures were only adopted in Constitutional amendments in February 2022, with implementing laws to be adopted by the end of March 2023 and implementing bylaws by the end of 2023..
  2. Although constitutional amendments have been under consideration for several years, governing institutions still need to develop the rules, policies, and procedures necessary to implement constitutional and legislative changes. In April 2022, the MoJ appointed working groups to revise the laws needed to achieve the planned alignment with the amended Constitution.
  3. Several different agencies remain responsible for governing the judicial system under the latest Constitutional changes, complicating governance. These include the Supreme Court of Cassation (SCC), the High Judicial Council (HJC), and the MoJ for the courts; the Republic Public Prosecutors Office (RPPO), the State Prosecutorial Council (SPC), and the MoJ for the system’s prosecutors and Public Prosecution Offices (PPOs); and the chambers of notaries and enforcement agents plus the MoJ for those professions.
  4. As of March 2022, several key areas remained in which system responsibilities still conflicted and/or overlapped. These included preparation and execution of the judicial budget and human resources management of judges and judicial staff (authority divided between the MoJ and the Councils, with dual reporting of the courts on their performance to the SCC and HJC). This overlap in responsibilities means that the MoJ, the HJC, the SCC, and the SPC still share responsibilities for setting and implementing significant policies regarding court resources and operations. The lack of ownership among those responsible for implementing particular reforms has jeopardized the success of the reforms.
  5. The administrative offices of both Councils have limited capacities with respect to policy development and the design and implementation of policies. Human Resources Management (HRM) planning and professional development of judges and prosecutors, both contemplated as key Council responsibilities, suffers as a result. Instead, the primary responsibilities of the administrative offices continue to be keeping registers on judges and prosecutors and providing administrative support to the Councils and their permanent and ad hoc bodies.
  6. At 131 total staff, MoJ appears understaffed, considering the ambitious agendas set forth by various strategic documents. The current number of staff does not appear to be sufficient to accomplish all the tasks set forth by the Action Plans for Chapters 23 and 24, the Judicial Development Strategy (2020-2025), the Strategy for Human Resources in the Judiciary (2022-2026) and the Strategy for Development of ICT in the Judiciary (2022 -2027).
  7. After two comprehensive changes to the judicial network (2010 and 2014), the organization of courts and state prosecutors’ offices throughout the country has been relatively stable over the past decade. Any future changes should be conducted carefully and gradually based on data-based assessments.
  8. The management of courts and PPOs faces a number of challenges, particularly an overburdening of Court presidents and public prosecutors with administrative tasks that could be delegated. This has a negative impact on their ability to fulfill their strategic role of organizing their institutions to perform at the highest level possible and performing duties for which only they are authorized (e.g., deciding on requests for recusal of judges). Court presidents and public prosecutors spend too much of their time directly organizing the work, allocating tasks, and monitoring execution in the courts/PPOs, rather than managing those tasks through staff.
  9. To date, systemic efforts to assess the internal organization of courts and prosecutors’ offices to increase productivity and performance have been fairly limited. The HJC and SPC administrative offices currently do not have the human and technical capacity to deal with issues of the internal organization of individual courts/PPOs and delivery of court services. There is also insufficient attention to organizational innovations which could enhance efficiency in the courts/PPOs operation.
  10. Workload among judges and public prosecutors is not evenly distributed. A case-weighting methodology was introduced in basic and higher courts of general jurisdiction and commercial courts in December 2021. It remains to be seen how it will impact the equalization of workload.
  11. The overall resource planning and management process have been undermined by continuous and comprehensive policy changes in the judiciary over the past decade and the high level of uncertainty that has followed. The whole judicial system is in a constant state of flux, with a number of policy reforms occurring at the same time and year after year.
  12. The strategic framework for judicial reform appears is detailed across a myriad of documents and its importance and benefits are not clearly communicated to the public. The current strategic framework includes several documents: the Judicial Development Strategy 2020-2025, with the Action Plan for 2022-2025; the Strategy for ICT in the Judiciary 2022-2027; the Strategy for Human Resources in the Judiciary 2022-2026; and the Action Plan for Chapter 23. The objectives and measures envisaged in these documents are not always fully aligned. The Action Plan for Chapter 23 is an umbrella policy document, but it has not been updated, and some of its deadlines are not aligned with the Action Plan for the implementation of the Judicial Development Strategy 2022-2025. The World Bank 2020 Regional Justice Survey reveals shortcomings in the communication of strategic objectives and achieved results.

Structure and Powers of Governance and Management Bodies ↩︎

  1. Since 2014, both Councils have implemented significant measures for managing human resources for judges and prosecutors. The Councils are active in the selection, appointment, and professional development of the holders of judicial functions, as shown in Table 1 below. They also have assumed responsibility for many of the ethical and disciplinary issues relevant to judges and prosecutors, as will be discussed in more detail later.
  2. Although the Human Resource Strategy in Judiciary was adopted in December 2021,3 the impact on the system has not yet been realized. The human resources management system in the analyzed period was still not fully based on merit,4 as required by the Action Plan for the Implementation of Chapter 23.

Table 1: Competences of the HJC vis-à-vis courts

Competences of the HJC vis-à-vis courts
Appointment and dismissal of judges Professional development of judges

Ethics and

Disciplinary responsibility

Staffing levels and judicial administration Budget
  • elects judges to permanent judicial office;
  • rules on the termination of judges' office;
  • proposes candidates to the National Assembly for the first judicial tenure
  • appoints lay judges;
  • decides on the transfer and assignment of judges;
  • decides on the process of the performance appraisal of a judge and president of the court;
  • approves the curriculum for continuous training of judges and court staff, and monitors training programme implementation;
  • defines curricula for the initial training of judges.
  • passes the Code of Ethics for judges;
  • rules on incompatibility of other services and jobs with judge's office;
  • rules on issues of immunity of judges and Members of the Council

- rules on objection to the suspension of judges

- determines the composition, duration and termination of the mandate of the
members of disciplinary bodies, appoints the members of disciplinary bodies and regulates the
manner of operation and decision making in disciplinary bodies

- decides upon legal remedies in disciplinary proceedings

- decides on the existence of conditions for compensation for damages due to unlawful and erroneous actions of a judge.

- determines the number of judges and lay judges for each court;

- performs affairs of the judicial administration within its remit.

- proposes the volume and structure of budgetary funds necessary for the work of the
courts’ overhead expenses, and oversees disbursement of funds in accordance with law.

Table 2: Competences of the SPC vis-à-vis PPOs

Competences of the SPC vis-à-vis PPOs
Appointment and dismissal of public prosecutors and their deputies Professional development of PPOs and their deputies

Ethics and

Disciplinary responsibility


- Selects a list of candidates for Republic Public Prosecutor and Public Prosecutors, nominates Deputy Public Prosecutor candidates for the first election to the National Assembly;

- Appoints Deputy Public Prosecutors to permanent office, appoints Deputy Public Prosecutors with permanent tenure to higher instances;

- Appoints Acting Republic Public Prosecutors;

- Decides on the termination of office of Deputy Public Prosecutor;

- Establishes reasons for the dismissal from office of a Public Prosecutor and/or Deputy Public Prosecutors;

- Adopts rules on procedure of election of SPC members from among Public Prosecutors and Deputy Public Prosecutors.

- Adopts rules on criteria for performance appraisal of Public Prosecutors and Deputy Prosecutors;

- Adopts decisions on legal remedy against the decision on performance appraisal of Public Prosecutors and Deputy Public Prosecutors;

- Establishes the curriculum of the training programme for Deputy Public Prosecutors elected to office for the first time and for prosecutorial assistants;

- Proposes the training programme for Public Prosecutors and Deputy Public Prosecutors with permanent tenure;

- Keeps a personal file for each Public Prosecutor, Deputy Public Prosecutor and employee;

- Transfers Deputy Public Prosecutors to a different PPO if the original PPO is closed.

- Adopts the Code of Ethics for prosecutors;

-- Appoints and dismisses the Disciplinary Prosecutor and members of the Disciplinary Commission;

- Adopts decisions on legal remedies in disciplinary proceedings;

- Determines rules on suspension of the Republic Public Prosecutor and rules on the objection to the decision on suspension of a Public Prosecutor and/or Deputy Public Prosecutor;

- Determines what other functions, affairs or private interests are contrary to the dignity and autonomy of the PPO.

- Proposes the volume and structure of budgetary funds required for overhead expenses, and oversees spending.
  1. The Councils continue to lack authority over the judicial system’s budget. While responsible for budgeting for judges and prosecutors and for operational expenses of the courts and PPOs, the Councils do not have authority for setting or responsibility for managing the vast majority of the court and prosecutor funding, namely that for the administrative staff of the courts and PPOs. In addition, judicial capital investments remain under the authority of the MoJ. The Councils prepare and propose their own Council budgets, which are then negotiated directly with the Ministry of Finance and approved by the National Assembly as part of the central government budget. Even in that context, both Councils are, however, in a relatively weak negotiating position, as they are not part of the government and sometimes even compete for funds with the MoJ.
  2. A 2018 decision of the Constitutional Court blocked the planned transfer of full authority for the judicial budget from the Ministry of Justice to the HJC and SPC, as had been envisaged in the 2013 National Judicial Reform Strategy and the Action Plan for Chapter 23.5 The same decision also blocked the planned transfer of competencies for monitoring the implementation of the Court Rules of Procedure and the Rules on Administration in Public Prosecution Offices from the MoJ to the Councils. A revision of the Law on Public Prosecution, which was supposed to transfer full budget competencies from the MoJ to the SPC, was also delayed6 and then was stopped due to the decision of the Constitutional Court.
  3. The Councils’ powers in relation to budgetary matters are now and would remain, under the proposed amendments, more limited than what is called for in European and international standards. The Councils’ competency for budgetary matters under the amendments calls for Council preparation of a portion of budget proposals for the work of courts or PPOs “within the Councils’ competence”. Unless further amended, the Councils would continue to be responsible only for the budget of the holders of judicial functions but not for the budget of their administrative staff. 7 New normative framework should provide for the Councils to determine general policies for internal organization of courts and PPOs, and that the HJC should to monitor the implementation of the judicial rules of procedure.
  4. The division of responsibility for transferring prosecutors between offices and determining the total numbe of prosecutors in each PPO could be used to subject prosecutors to political influence. While both the SPC and the RPPO are authorized to transfer prosecutors to another PPO, the SPC can do so only when the original PPO is closed. The RPPO has the authority to transfer a prosecutor to another PPO without SPC consent at any time, presenting opportunities to undermine prosecutorial independence. For example, in 2017, the RPPO temporarily transferred a number of deputy public prosecutors to newly established special departments for suppressing corruption within the PPOs without any consultation with the SPC; this interfered with the SPC’s authority to govern the system of PPOs and manage human resources.8 The responsibility for setting the number of prosecutors and their deputies in each PPO is also split, in this case between three bodies; the RPPO is responsible for analyzing each PPOs’ workload, the SPC estimates the number of prosecutors needed per PPO, but the MoJ has the final word on the number of prosecutors in each PPO.
  5. Some of the system’s split in authority – particularly in the areas of initial appointment and dismissal of judges and deputy prosecutors -- could be mitigated through adopted Constitutional amendments. Constitutional amendments authorize the HJC to appoint and dismiss judges, including court presidents and the president of the Supreme Court of Cassation, currently outside the competence of the HJC. In a similar vein, the amendments would add the appointment and dismissal of Public Prosecutors to the Prosecutorial Council’s current power to appoint and dismiss Deputy Public Prosecutors. Adopted amendments also abolish the three-year probationary periods for deputy prosecutors and judges, which would also be a positive development.9

Composition of the Councils ↩︎

  1. Helpful Constitutional amendments related to the composition of the Councils were adopted in February 2022 after several years of public discussions and consultations. The Constitutional amendments exclude the executive branch from ex officio membership on the HJC, to satisfy concerns voiced by the CCJE.10 The new composition of the HJC includes 11 members: six judges elected by their peers, four prominent lawyers elected by a two-thirds majority of the National Assembly, and the president of the Supreme Court of Cassation.11 The National Assembly no longer appoints judges or prosecutors to the Councils, which many observers hope will reduce opportunities for political influence on their work. If there is no qualified majority vote by the Assembly for the non-judge members, those members would be selected by a special commission composed of the President of the Constitutional Court, the President of the Supreme Court, the Republic Prosecutor, the Protector of Citizens (Ombudsman) and the President of the National Assembly.
  2. Additionally, amendments rename the State Prosecutorial Council as the High Prosecutorial Council and retain the Minister of Justice on the Council, which still has 11 members. Of the 11 members, five would be selected among public prosecutors by their peers, while four prominent lawyers would be appointed by a two-thirds qualified majority of the National Assembly, and the Supreme Public Prosecutor of Serbia and the Minister of Justice would be ex officio members. If there is no qualified majority for the appointment of non-prosecutor members, the same five-member commission as for the HJC will select them.
  3. Over the past few years, both Councils have established permanent working bodies for carrying out their authority. The bodies established by the High Judicial Council include the Commission for the Performance Appraisal of Judges and Court Presidents, the Electoral Commission, and disciplinary bodies (with a disciplinary prosecutor and disciplinary commission).12 In addition, in 2018, the HJC established the Ethics Board as a temporary working body responsible for ethical issues, which became a permanent body with the adoption of the Amendments to the Law on High Judicial council in 2021.13 In addition to permanent bodies organiyed by the Law on High Judicial Council, the Commission for appeal against the decision on the evaluation of judicial assistants14 The SPC has also established temporary working bodies, such as the Ethics Committee, the Working Group for Monitoring of Implementation of Judicial Legislation, and the Working Group for Training Curricula.

Managerial capacities of the Councils and transparency of their work ↩︎

  1. Skills central to the strategic development of the judicial system, such as strategic planning, policy analysis, organizational assessment, and management advisory services to the courts and PPOs, are in short supply on the Councils. Neither Council has enough positions allocated to analytical tasks. Most of the analytical positions which do exist focus on budget issues.15 The HJC training program for 2015-2018 centered on the technical competencies of HJC employees, with a certain number of trainings organized on strategic management.
  2. The Administrative Offices of both Councils still are not fully staffed. In 2021, the Administrative Office of the HJC had filled 43 out of 60 planned positions,16 while the Secretariat of the SPC had filled 20 of 28 planned positions. A related issue is the lack of space for the additional staff needed by the Councils. The organizational chart of the Administrative Office of the HJC and the SPC are presented in Figure 1 and Figure 2 below.

Figure 1: Organigram of the High Judicial Council

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Figure 2: Organigram of the State Prosecutors Council

  1. Notable progress was made in the Councils’ institutional capacity for decreasing political pressure on the judiciary, especially within the SPC, but significant gaps remain. In 2017, the SPC created a more elaborate mechanism for both ad hoc and regular responses in cases of alleged political interference17 by establishing the Commissioner for Autonomy. The Commissioner had a mandate to take action upon individual complaints by deputy prosecutors and processed more than 40 individual complaints from 2017 to 2020.18 In addition, the Commissioner for Autonomy can act on his or her own motion, in line with the best international practices. The establishment and the operation of the Commissioner for Autonomy was positively assessed by the Council of Europe and the GRECO.19 However, there was no proper institutional setup to ensure the sustainability of this mechanism and the position of Commissioner was vacant for more than a year, from the expiration of the mandate in April 2020 until April 2021, when a new Commissioner was appointed.20 In 2016, as required by the Action Plan for Chapter 23,21 the HJC amended its procedural rules to improve its capacity to investigate cases of alleged political interference in the judiciary upon requests by judges. However, the procedure has been used only in a very limited number of cases. Until April 2021 there was no mechanism that would enable the HJC to independently initiate investigation, and the latest amendments to the Rules of Procedure of the High Judicial Council introduced this possibility.22
  2. The transparency of the Councils’ operations improved somewhat in line with the requirements of the Action Plan for Chapter 23. The December 2015 amendments of the laws on the HJC and SPC specify the conditions under which sessions of the HJC and SPC are open to the public and require that decisions and annual work reports of the Councils be reasoned and available on their websites.23 Furthermore, the Councils’ rules of procedures require the Councils to use various means to inform the public about conclusions reached on complaints about alleged political interference in the work of the judiciary. In addition, the SPC’s Rules of Procedure envisage that its general acts will be available on its website and in its official gazette. Both Councils also have communication strategies.24 In spite of these efforts, gaps in the transparency of the Councils still remain, including a lack of detailed explanations about promotions and appointments of the holders of judicial functions.25

Capacities of the Ministry of Justice ↩︎

  1. The role of the MoJ is central to the delivery of the Action Plan for and the successful conclusion of negotiations on Chapter 23. As the leader of the Negotiating Group for Chapter 23, the MoJ must ensure the functioning of the entire "delivery chain" of planning, adaptation, and change management from the Action Plan to the completion of sub-chapters and eventually Chapter 23. The MoJ prepared the Action Plan, and provided administrative and technical support to the Councils for the Implementation of the Action Plan for Chapter 23.
  2. The MoJ remains understaffed relative to its responsibilities for the implementation of the Action Plan and other strategic documents. This issue continues from the 2014 Functional Review. There are gaps in the MoJ’s analytical capacities for data collection, monitoring, and evaluation of results, as well as reporting on the implementation of the Action Plan for Chapter 23. As of January 2022, the MoJ had only 131 full-time employees (116 civil servants, 12 state employees, and three public officials), although the Rulebook on internal organization and systematization authorized 170 posts (148 civil servants, 19 state employees, and three public officials).26 The number of temporary consultants at the MoJ also decreased from 10 to three in 2020, due to cuts in funding.
  3. Several sectors of the MoJ needed to strengthen their capacities to continue reforms and effectively conduct the negotiation processes. These included the Department for Normative Affairs, responsible for aligning Serbia’s legislation with the EU Acquis communautaire and assessing the impact of proposed legislative changes; the Sector for EU Integration and International Projects, the main MoJ body for strategic planning and provision of administrative support to the Negotiating Group for Chapter 23; the Department for the Judiciary, with responsibilities for public notaries, mediators and enforcement agents and the legal aid system; and the Department of Material and Financial Affairs, with responsibilities that include improving court infrastructure. The EU-funded project is currently providing timely and useful capacity-building support to all MoJ departments.27 However, the project will end by mid-2022, when the MOJ will be focused on processing several tasks: amending the package of judicial laws to align them with the Constitutional amendments, applying the new accession methodology, and reporting on Chapter 23 implementation based on interim benchmarks.

Figure 3: Organigram of the Ministry of Justice

  1. Court Presidents and Public Prosecutors have significant and burdensome mid-level management responsibilities; particularly in larger courts and PPOs, the absence of sufficient high-level support staff undermines Court Presidents’ and Public Prosecutors’ ability to focus on broader strategic management. Court Presidents have traditionally managed and overseen their own courts and the courts below them in the hierarchy. The Law on Public Prosecution authorizes Public Prosecutors to manage each PPO, with responsibility for proper and timely performance of the office.28 Public Prosecutors are responsible for managing cases; organizing internal operations; reviewing complaints and petitions; keeping statistics; drafting reports; and managing finances and materials. They must deal with complaints from parties to the proceedings and requests from parties for expediting work in particular cases. Public Prosecutors also are responsible for certain human resource and financial management matters (e.g., requests for annual leave of employees, issuing payment orders, etc.).
  2. The performance of Court Presidents and Public Prosecutors varied during the period under study. Strong performance seems to be based on individual enthusiasm. Some Court Presidents used proactive management procedures, setting clear expectations for performance among their judges and staff.29 Very little training was provided, and opportunities for Basic Court Presidents to meet and exchange experiences were rare.
  3. More than one-third of the prosecutors heading PPOs are ‘acting’ prosecutors rather than formally appointed. Given the extensive responsibilities of each Public Prosecutor for the operation of each PPO, this has been detrimental to the functioning of the system as a whole, as well as to the individual offices. In 2021, out of 90 PPOs, there were 27 acting public prosecutors, 11 of whom were heads of the office.30 The number of appointed Public Prosecutors rose from 48 in 2014 to 53 in 2015, 56 in 2016, and 59 in 2018, but fell to 52 in 2021.
  4. The Secretaries in most courts and PPOs were judges and prosecutorial assistants with few management skills and little, if any, management training. There were no templates for staffing profiles for courts and PPOs. Secretaries assist Court Presidents and Public Prosecutors with administrative and technical tasks. Because the secretaries generally were judges and prosecutorial assistants, they hoped to become judges and Deputy Public Prosecutors, rather than pursuing Court or PPO management as a career.

MoJ Management of the New Judicial Professions ↩︎

  1. Over the past decade, several new judicial professions were established for the first time in the judicial system of Serbia; implementation and oversight have been effective. Bailiffs and their deputies were introduced by the 2011 Law on Enforcement and Security,31 and became operational in 2012, while public notaries commenced working on September 1, 2014. The new framework for the operation of the system of mediation was created in January 2015 by the enactment of the Law on Mediation.32 Public notaries and bailiffs have created a Public Notaries Chamber and a Chamber of Bailiffs, which are responsible for quality control of public notaries and bailiffs. In addition to those so-called “new judicial professions”, the judicial system also recognizes expert witnesses, court-certified interpreters, and translators, which are traditional parts of the judicial system.33
  2. The Ministry of Justice has important responsibilities for the work of judicial professionals. First, it is in charge of their appointment and dismissal. Second, it supervises the work of bailiffs and public notaries as well as the work of the Chamber of Public Notaries and Chamber of Bailiffs. Third, it is authorized to adopt regulations and guidelines for the lawful performance of judicial professions. For example, the MoJ adopted the Rulebook on the Manner of Supervision of the Work of Public Notaries in 2017.34 Fourth, the MoJ keeps records of the holders of judicial professions, monitors the implementation of the relevant laws, and prepares annual reports on the performance of bailiffs, public notaries, and mediators.35 Finally, the MoJ provides IT support to the work of the new judicial professions through the judicial information system (JIS), a platform that enables access to the databases of state bodies that are of relevance to their work: the Ministry of Interior (regarding the residence status of Serbian citizens), the Ministry of Public Administration and local self-government (which has a database of personnel records), the Cadaster, the Central Registry of Social Insurance, and the Business Registers Agency.
  3. Although the MoJ did undertake efforts to strengthen the capacities of the Department for Supervision of Judicial Professions, additional capacity is needed to enable their effective monitoring. In 2016, the Rulebook on Internal Organization and Systematization was amended to envisage additional positions for the supervision of public notaries and bailiffs, and the 2018 Rulebook included nine positions.36 This number of employees, however, is still not sufficient to enable a smooth supervision process.
  4. Some progress also was made in strengthening the capacities of the holders of judicial professions. In line with the Action Plan for Chapter 23, in 2015, the Law on the Judicial Academy was amended to enable the Academy to offer professional development to public notaries and enforcement agents, based on agreements with their respective chambers.37 Training has been held for public notaries, enforcement agents, mediators and expert witnesses, and cooperation between the aforementioned chambers, the Judicial Academy and other institutions was established with the adoption of bylaws, including the Rulebook on the initial training of candidates and the advancement of enforcement agents, as well as training of mediators.38
  5. Reform activities regarding the work of judicial professions are ongoing. The Law on Enforcement and Securities was last amended in 201939 with the aim of establishing a more efficient enforcement procedure and introducing the protection of vulnerable citizens.40 The MoJ is in the process of revising the statutory framework pertaining to expert witnesses, translators and interpreters.41 The regulations specifying rates of public notaries have been amended several times42 and the secondary legislation on monitoring of public notary functions by the Ministry of Justice was amended in 2020.43 Furthermore, the Law on the Bar Exam needs to be amended to enable specialized exams for holders of the various judicial professions;44 however, this reform is still pending.

Effectiveness of Operational Management ↩︎

Internal organization of courts and prosecutors’ offices ↩︎

  1. A new network of courts of general jurisdiction started operating in January 2014, as depicted in Figure 4 below.

Figure 4: Serbia’s court network

  1. The organization of Public Prosecution Offices has also changed substantively over the past decade. In 2010, the number of Basic PPOs was reduced from 109 to 34, and Appellate PPOs were introduced for the first time. In 2014, the PPOs network expanded to increase the number of Basic PPOs from 34 to 58, establishing 25 Higher PPOs; the network retained the four Appellate PPOs.45 There also are two PPOs of special jurisdiction – one for Organised Crime and one for War Crimes. The organization of PPOs is presented in the Figure 5 below.

Figure 5: Serbia’s PPOs network

Managing caseloads and workloads ↩︎

  1. The 2014 Functional Review pointed out that systemic efforts to assess the internal organization of courts and PPOs in order to increase productivity and performance have been fairly limited. This finding remains relevant today. The 2014 Functional Review also found that the numbers of judges in the same types of courts do not correlate with the number of incoming cases, pending caseloads, or disposition rates. This directly impacts court efficiency and access to justice. The effects of these disparities are discussed in detail in the Efficiency chapter.
  2. More critically, extreme workload differences between and within courts of the same type pose a risk for the quality of judgments and the application of the principle of equal access to justice. Judges with a high workload are under intense pressure to process as many cases as possible to reduce the existing backlog, which can encourage prioritizing speed over the quality of judgments. At the same time, citizens in areas in which judges have relatively low caseloads have a better chance of getting their cases resolved within a reasonable time, compared to citizens whose judges have high workloads.
  3. In 2021, a new case-weighting formula to improve workload distribution was developed, tested and introduced in all basic and higher courts of general jurisdiction and commercial courts across the country. The AVP system was modified in the pilot courts to enable the use of the case-weighting methodology, which enables electronic random assignment of cases with a certain “weight” to judges.46
  4. Although the case-weighting methodology may improve workload distribution within a given court, it will not solve the problem of huge differences in the workloads between the courts. Systemic measures are needed to equalize the distribution of the cases throughout the judicial network, including better human resource management (i.e., planning of human and financial resources based on the workload of the court).
  5. On a positive note, there was significant progress in reducing backlogs, especially for enforcement cases. Almost one million enforcement cases were closed, as stated in the Annual Report on the work of the Courts. JEP contributed in 2016 by decreasing the number of backlogged cases by 828,248 (from 1,399,481 to 571,233), which represented almost 60 percent of all backlogged cases in those courts. This remarkable result was achieved thanks to backlog reduction plans of the Supreme Court of Cassation, implementation of a new Law on Enforcement, the commitment of the courts, and intense cooperation between the EU-funded “Judicial Efficiency” project team (JEP), the Supreme Court of Cassation, and the Ministry of Justice. A
  6. Enforcement cases, however, still constituted about one-third of all unresolved cases in the Serbian judiciary. At the end of 2019, there were 1,701,312 unresolved cases in the Serbian judiciary, of which 621,674 were enforcement cases.
  7. The workload differences between PPOs were notable, but not as significant as the differences between the courts. In 2019, the highest workload per prosecutor was recorded in the Korsumlija Basic PPO, with 562 cases per prosecutor, around four times higher than in the Basic PPO of Prijepoljer, with 131 cases per prosecutor.
  8. A case-weighting methodology for PPOs was developed and submitted to the SPC in 2015 but has still not been adopted. The Action Plan for Chapter 23 envisages the development of a case-weighting methodology for prosecution offices, taking into consideration specifics of the prosecutors’ work. Additional analysis is needed to ensure appropriate case weighting.
  9. In spite of the absence of a case-weighting methodology, the members of the SPC redistributed the number of prosecutors' positions in the PPOs, to address the challenges posed by the uneven workload.47 This is a very positive development, which shows that a case-weighting methodology is not a sine qua non for ensuring appropriate workload in the judicial institutions.

Work processes and process re-engineering ↩︎

  1. Courts and PPOs face a variety of problems in their day-to-day operations. In some courts and PPOs, there was a lack of support and administrative staff, such as typists, which slowed the delivery of judgments. Some courts and PPOs have inadequate space for offices and courtrooms, which affects the timing of trials. For instance, In some courts, the enforcement departments are not located in the main court building, so cases have to be moved between buildings at different stages of their proceedings.
  2. Traditional specialization of judges in criminal or civil matters posed a challenge for the efficient internal organization of courts. During the internship process, judges usually choose careers focusing on either criminal or civil law. With the introduction of prosecution-led investigations in 2013, a major part of the workload of criminal judges has been transferred to prosecutors. Court presidents, however, seemed to be reluctant to reassign criminal law judges to other types of cases, contributing to the disparities in workloads discussed in the previous section.
  3. There was only limited progress with specialization of work and streamlined business processes in courts and PPOs. The efficiency of the internal organization of courts and PPOs largely depends on the management capability of each court president or Public Prosecutor. Some courts and PPOs employ streamlined processes to deal with certain types of cases, such as small claims, labor disputes and family issues. In many courts, however, the specialization process was handicapped by a freeze of recruitment in the public sector. The establishment of special departments to prosecute certain types of cases that require specialized skills was also possible only in larger PPOs, e.g., the First Basic PPO in Belgrade.
  4. There also were several successful attempts to streamline business processes, which assumed the preparation of electronic forms for generating repetitive decisions, such as enforcement decisions (see Box 1).

Box 1: Examples of streamlining business processes

In June 2016, the EU’s Judicial Efficiency Project (JEP) assisted the Supreme Court of Cassation (SCC) with the development of templates for typical decisions on enforcement cases that were integrated in and electronically generated through the existing AVP Case Management System. This facilitated closing a large volume of enforcement cases in courts across Serbia.

The SCC, in cooperation with the Ministry of Justice, prepared electronic forms in the AVP and SAPS case management systems for generating decisions in Higher and Appellate Courts, for cases in which the Ministry of Defense withdrew its appeals of claims for damages submitted by reservists. This meant judges did not have to make individual decisions in these cases.

  1. Basic Courts were incentivized to improve efficiency and effectiveness through innovative business processes; the "Court Rewards Program" recognizes first-instance courts that improved efficiency and productivity in case processing. The program, initiated by the SCC, has been supported by the World Bank MDTF.

Box 2:Work process innovations in Basic Courts rewarded by the Supreme Court of Cassation.

In 2017, four courts were recognized for their efforts to innovate work processes. The Second Basic Court of Belgrade introduced its info-service for mediation. The Third Basic Court of Belgrade received an award for concluding a number of memoranda of cooperation with high school and university education institutions for student internship programmes. The Basic Court in Novi Sad improved its efficiency in handling enforcement cases through innovative communications with other relevant institutions (e.g., the police, tax administration, cadaster, etc.). The Basic Court of Uzice was recognized for the advanced use of information technologies to communicate with parties in cases, including electronic displays with daily data on all proceedings; electronic ordering of documents of confirmations issued by the court; and electronic communication with PPOs and lawyers.

In 2018, the Second Basic Court in Belgrade received first prize for developing a software application that prints confirmation receipts for letters and that automatically updates the records of receipt confirmations. This has sped up the enforcement. The Basic Court of Pancevo also received an innovation award for developing software that controls the payment of expenses in criminal proceedings and enforced collection of court taxes.

Source: Decision of the Commission of the Supreme Court of Cassation, 26/9/2017; 29/9/2018.

  1. Lessons learned from these innovations, however, have not been promoted or shared on a systematic basis, a function that should be carried out by the Councils.
  2. The position of “court manager” or “court administrator” has had a positive effect on the management of courts, but the position is not used in many courts. The court administrator is the highest non-judicial position in the court system, responsible for managing administration and finances. The Law on Court Organisation of 2013 formally introduced the position of a court manager and codified the duties and responsibilities of this position. The law prescribes that an administrator should be employed at the highest instance courts, i.e., the Appellate Courts, in courts with 30 or more judges and when several courts share the same building and facilities. Only a few courts employ court managers. Although court managers have shown good results in practice, other courts that wanted to introduce this position were not able to do so after the Serbian Government introduced a hiring freeze in the public sector in 2014.
  3. Training modules on-court leadership created by the Judicial Academy were still not mandatory. The Judicial Academy organized several training sessions to give court officials effective techniques to manage and organize the work of the court. The training sessions, developed with the assistance of USAID, also gave the court presidents a chance to exchange information and experiences about their day-to-day management duties. The court leadership training program, however, has not been implemented continuously.

Effectiveness in Resource Management ↩︎

  1. Problems in resource management and coordination remain, stemming from the fragmentation of the responsibilities between the key governance institutions. The division of responsibilities results in a lack of coordination in resource planning and management, hampers the efficiency of financial management, and creates scope for outside political influence.
  2. Although an assessment of judicial infrastructure and ICT has been prepared,48 there is no systematic planning or programming for ICT and infrastructure. Decisions are still ad hoc, the longer-term costs of operations and maintenance are often overlooked, and there is not enough training available for ICT users to get the most out of the equipment. These issues are discussed in more detail in the ICT Management chapter.
  3. One of the critical problems for resource management was the lack of regulatory impact analysis of proposed legislation significantly affecting the judiciary. Key pieces of legislation for which there was insufficient (if any) analysis of the human and financial resources necessary for their effective implementation included the organization of the court network, prosecution-led investigations and the introduction of special departments for corruption offenses. This gap triggered serious disturbances in the system, which for the most part have been handled (or not) “as we go along”. The risks of such an approach are best shown in the case of prosecution-led investigations, introduced in 2013, which was not followed by adequate human and financial resources and resulted in backlogs and arrears.49
  4. While automated systems for statistical analysis have improved (see ICT Management chapter), the current system of collecting court statistics does not support meaningful analyses of the performances or effective planning of resources.

Effectiveness in Strategic Management ↩︎

Development of Strategies ↩︎

  1. Reform of the judiciary has been one of the key strategic priorities of the Serbian government over the past two decades. The first National Judicial Reform Strategy, with a stated goal of restoring public trust in the judicial system, was adopted by the Serbian National Assembly in May 2006. In 2013, Serbia adopted a new National Judicial Reform strategy (NJRS) for the period of 2013-2018 and an Action Plan for its implementation. In July 2020, the new Judicial Development Strategy was adopted.
  2. The key role in development of strategic documents was held by the Ministry of Justice. Documents were developed by working groups supported by the Ministry of Justice as the institution responsible for coordination of the EU accession process under Chapter 23. All three strategic documents prioritized improvement of the quality, efficiency, effectiveness, and accessibility of the judiciary, as well as protecting its independence while ensuring the functioning of effective mechanisms of accountability.
  3. While the 2006 Strategy placed attention on the establishment of the new institutional framework, the 2013 Strategy primarily focused on legislation, without ensuring effective implementation. The 2013 Strategy was accompanied by a lengthy Action Plan, which required an effective organizational and managerial approach to be implemented. The 2020 Strategy was adopted to ensure further judicial reforms in the following five-year period. Its priorities remain similar to the previous policy documents: strengthening of judicial independence and prosecutorial autonomy; strengthening of integrity of judicial office holders; and the quality and efficiency of the judicial system.50 The latter document was based on directions and recommendations issued by the European Commission in the Chapter 23 Screening Report,51 and on interim benchmarks contained in the negotiation position. However, this Strategy is still not accompanied by an Action Plan that prescribes specific measures, activities, deadlines, necessary funds and responsible bodies in charge of the implementation of the activities.
  4. The Action Plan for Chapter 23 is the overarching strategic document adopted in July 2016 as the opening benchmark for negotiation under Chapter 23. On 10 July 2020, the Government of Serbia adopted a revised Action Plan with the aim of setting more realistic goals, as the EU has been placing much greater emphasis on the quality of the implemented reforms in the area of the rule of law.

Implementation of Plans and Measurement of Progress ↩︎

  1. Implementation of the 2013-2018 NJRS was hampered by delays and the proliferation of judicial reform documents and bodies. A Strategy Implementation Commission, led by the Ministry of Justice and consisting of 15 members representing all relevant institutions in charge of the implementation of the judicial reform52, was established in September 2013 to monitor and measure progress in the implementation of the Strategy and the accompanying Action Plan. Initially, the Commission organized regular monthly meetings, but beginning in 2018 it met only sporadically, for a total of 3-4 times each year.53
  2. Adoption of the Action Plan for the Implementation of Chapter 23 and the creation of the Council for the Implementation of the Action Plan for Chapter 23 in December 201554 reduced the focus of the MoJ on the detailed implementation of the NJRS.55 The revised Action plan for Chapter 23 changed the monitoring mechanism and introduced the Coordination body for implementation.
  3. The reports of the NJRS Strategy Implementation Commission usually were limited to box-ticking of the NJRS measures, and they did not include in-depth assessments of progress or lack thereof. The lack of central statistics for the judicial sector as of January 1, 2021, still hampers effective monitoring and evaluation of the sector’s progress.
  4. The reports of the Council for the Implementation of the Action Plan for Chapter 23 have been more detailed, but are limited to the EC recommendations from the Screening Report56 and descriptions of implemented activities with no focus on achieved impact. In addition, the quality of reports by civil society organizations on judicial reform progress has varied.
  5. The structure for monitoring and evaluation of the implementation of the Chapter 23 Action Plan is so complex that it may deflect attention from tracking the pace of reforms in the judicial system. The complexity of the system makes it difficult for those within the judicial system to keep abreast of what monitoring is being done, and by whom. The following chart is a streamlined view of the process.

Figure 6: Monitoring and Evaluation Mechanism according to the revised AP CH 23

  1. The responsibility for monitoring the implementation of the activities envisaged in the Action Plan through July 2020 was entrusted to a variety of entities: the Implementation Council, the Head of the Negotiating Team for Accession Negotiations of Serbia to the European Union, the Negotiating Group for Chapter 23 led by the President/Head of the group, and the Coordination Body for the process of accession of the Republic of Serbia to the European Union,57 which guides public administration issues within the accession process.

Box 3: Responsibilities for monitoring the implementation of the Action plan for Chapter 23

Council for the Implementation of the Action Plan for Chapter 23 was assigned to monitor the implementation of the activities in the Action Plan on a daily basis, in order to trigger an early warning mechanism in case of delays and other problems in the implementation of the Action Plan, and to coordinate the reporting process. The Council submitted monthly reports on the implementation of the Action Plan to the Negotiating Team for the accession of the Republic of Serbia to the European Union, the President of the Negotiating Group on Chapter 23, and the Coordination Body Council. The Coordinating Body Council pays particular attention to ensuring that monthly reports encompass conclusions and recommendations from bodies that monitor the implementation of national strategic documents. The Council for Implementation of the Action Plan for Chapter 23 prepared quarterly reports on the implementation of the Action Plan, as well as biannual reports, to the European Commission. Quarterly and annual reports were published on the MoJ web page through 2019. These reports are activity-based and do not assess the effects of the reforms.
  1. Serbian authorities also are required to ensure follow-up on recommendations from the Functional Review conducted by the World Bank in 2014. This obligation stems from the Common Negotiation Position, adopted by the Serbian Government and the EU,58 which includes interim benchmarks to measure reform progress.

Communication of judicial reforms and support to the process ↩︎

  1. Court users and service providers have very different perceptions of the effect of previous and current justice reforms. Citizens (36 percent) and business representatives (34 percent) are generally more positive than negative. Judges are fairly polarized in positive (40 percent) and negative attitudes (39 percent), while the prevailing view of prosecutors is more negative (42 percent). This negative attitude among justice providers is expected, given the frequent reorganization of courts, reelection of judges, and many other actions which were not carefully planned and implemented, or which were delayed. Interestingly, those employed in court administration are the most optimistic concerning the direction of the reforms (45 percent believe the impact is positive). This result can be explained in part by the transfer of some of their duties to notaries and bailiffs. Perceptions of justice reforms have remained consistent amongst these groups over the last 10 years; this is not surprising, given that the Judicial Development Strategy for 2020 to 202559 prioritizes the same areas as previous strategic documents.
  2. Lawyers have the most negative opinion of previous reforms, with most of them believing that reforms are not going in the right direction. More than half of attorneys (54 percent) believe that reforms have been harmful, and only 21 percent see them as positive. Lawyers were not systemically included in consultations about the reform process; in fact, they have mainly been excluded. In addition, lawyers were not satisfied with the decision to include them under Chapter 3 as providers of services, and to leave them outside of negotiations for Chapter 23.60 Lawyers also protested the introduction of notaries by obstructing the work of the judiciary for four months in 2014. Their prevailing opinion is that the judiciary is inefficient, trials take an unbearably long time, and the quality of trials needs to be improved.61 Currently, they also express opposition to announced amendments to the Civil Procedure Code, claiming that the amendments will reduce access to justice.

Figure 7: Citizens, businesses, lawyers, judges, prosecutors and court staff: Evaluation of impact of justice reforms

Source: Regional Justice Survey for Serbia

  1. There is also a different perception of the areas in which reforms had the greatest impact. Citizens and businesses associate previous justice reform with improvements in the quality of work and services, and secondarily with efficiency and accessibility. Judges and prosecutors believe reforms had the greatest impact on efficiency, and then quality of work and services. Court staff believes that reform most benefitted the quality of work, efficiency, fairness and impartiality. Lawyers think that reforms mostly helped to advance accessibility, and then efficiency and quality of work.
  2. Citizens, businesses and justice professionals use different sources of information about ongoing judicial reforms; these sources should be consolidated and made relevant for designing dissemination plans. The communication strategies of judicial stakeholders should keep in mind citizens’ and businesses’ sources of information and target them to ensure better awareness of judicial reforms and results. While traditional media (especially TV programs and newspapers) are still very much a source of information for citizens, official websites are more popular among justice professionals. While official websites have improved (see ICT Management chapter), citizens still most commonly get information through TV programs (60 percent) and communication with family/friends (45 percent). Also, middle-aged (34 percent) and older generations (35 percent) read newspapers for this purpose more often than others (28 percent). It is not a surprise that the internet is noticeably more popular among younger people (18-44 years of age). Highly educated citizens (47 percent), residents of Belgrade (30 percent) and urban areas in general (28 percent) and those whose political affiliations are closer to the opposing parties (32 percent) more commonly use unofficial websites and various portals. Business representatives are usually informed through communication with colleagues/friends (44 percent) or by contacting a lawyer (43 percent), especially in the case of larger companies. Official websites are used by 12 percent of citizens, and by 27 percent of businesses.
  3. The relationship between the judiciary and the media remains of concern. In late 2018, the HJC adopted a 2018-2022 communication strategy with the aim of advancing openness and proactive communication in all courts in Serbia.62 A new media strategy was adopted in February 2020, acknowledging that the last decade has been marked by an increase of tabloid content in violation of the presumption of innocence.63 The negative image of the justice system results in part from an absence of public information portraying the importance of the work of the judiciary and efforts made to administer justice.

Recommendations and Next Steps ↩︎

Recommendation 1: Develop a clear legal definition of the governance structure.

The goals of the 202264 Constitutional amendments included ensuring a clear definition of the governance structure, organization, and goals of the Councils and enhancing their management capacities to carry out their current responsibilities.65 As part of the implementation of these recent amendments, a new legislative package is needed to amend the Law on the HJC, Law on the SPC, Law on Organization of Courts, Law on Public Prosecution, and relevant bylaws. This legislative package should ensure a clear division of responsibilities and powers to ensure efficient and effective governance over the judicial system. To avoid overlapping, unclear, or inconsistent legislation, it will be very important to:

  • Amend the relevant legislation in line with Venice Commission and CCJE/CCPE recommendations to enshrine Councils and court independence, including appointments and promotions within the judicial system.66 Amend the existing rules that prescribe the election of all elected members of the Councils at once every five years, replacing them with rotational elections that assist the retention of institutional memory and implementation of initiated activities. (MOJ, HJC, SPC, National Assembly – short-term)
  • Consider introducing a general manager as the Head of the Administrative Offices of the two Councils to provide managerial oversight based on a job description requiring prior management experience and a hiring process independent of political influence. (HJC, SPC – medium-term)
  • Improve human resource capacities of the HJC and SPC by hiring senior professionals of special profiles in the Councils authorized to propose directions and solutions for the policies that are under the responsibility of the Councils. (HJC, SPC – medium-term)

Recommendation 2: Create strategic and operational planning functions in the judiciary.

  • Create an ongoing strategic and operational planning function in the judiciary to collect and analyze data and plan process improvements consistent with the CCJE standard that data collection is used to evaluate justice in its wider context67 and reside in an independent institution in the judiciary.68 (MOJ, HJC, SPC - short-term).
  • Adapt the Functional Review’s Performance Framework into a streamlined dashboard - to monitor system performance, with a small number (maximum of 10) of key performance indicators most likely to drive performance enhancements. (SCC, RPPO, MOJ – short-term)
  • Consider increasing the focus on the effective rollout and implementation of a smaller number of reforms most likely to improve system performance from the perspective of court users.69 Identify measurable targets. Monitor and document results, especially with respect to efficiency. (MOJ, HJC, SPC, Commission – short-term)

Recommendation 3: Increase the judicial sector’s capacity to analyze workload and determine resources.

Bolster the sector’s capacity to systematically analyze system workloads and determine the efficient resource mix to achieve policy objectives. Adding judges and staff to address performance issues is ineffective without a more rigorous evaluation of system needs.

  • Monitor implementation of the case-weighting methodology in courts. (HJC, SCC – short-term)
  • Create a planning, analytic, and statistics unit within each Council, with skilled staff who are capable of collecting and analyzing data about court and PPO performance. Task this unit to undertake human and financial resource planning and policy analysis functions focusing on the key performance areas. (HJC, SPC – short-term)
  • Refine the weighting of cases over time to continually improve the allocation of resources to meet needs. (HJC, SCC – medium/long-term)

Recommendation 4: Re-engineer and streamline administrative processes in the courts and PPOs.

Re-engineering can result in more efficient and effective remedies for users and a reduced administrative burden on judges and staff without collapsing quality. Once the analytical unit is established, ongoing costs will be minimal.

  • Establish a working group (comprising business process experts, judges, public prosecutors and judicial staff) to consider areas where re-engineering of processes would provide the greatest benefit. (HJC, SPC, Courts, PPOs – short- term)
  • Facilitate organization of colloquia for Court Presidents to exchange information on recent attempts to improve processes. Ensure rollout of the best practices. (HJC, SPC in collaboration with MOJ, Court Presidents for local meetings – medium-term)

Recommendation 5: Disseminate information about system results to target audiences.

Improving public information would enhance trust and confidence, combat negative reports about the judiciary and demonstrate improvements in service delivery in line with Chapter 23. The SCC Annual Reports have improved, but the judiciary still lacks public presentation and dissemination. Low-cost methods of disseminating such information could include online information, posters, and handouts in courts and PPOs.

  • Accompany Annual Reports with downloadable spreadsheets of system data for the benefit of analysts and researchers. Maintain email distribution lists for more frequent updates of progress. (SCC, HJC – short-term)
  • Provide more detailed and disaggregated data in annual reports of the prosecution service. (RPPO short-term) Provide summary updates of recent reforms and their implications for court users and inform target audiences of proposed reforms using lay formats. (MOJ, Councils, SCC – medium- term