Basic Court Skopje 1 is struggling to provide courtrooms and personnel
The judiciary cannot deal with the influx of cases caused by Special Prosecutor’s Office’s bills of indictment, the court trials that stemmed from the violence in the Macedonian Parliament of 27 April 2017, but also from numerous other cases with higher numbers of indicted. One possible solution is to move the Criminal Court into the new building, but that won’t solve the staff issue. The judicial reform ought to consider the courts’ capacities for dealing with the large number of various types of trials
The judiciary cannot deal with the influx of cases caused by Special Prosecutor’s Office’s bills of indictment, the court trials that stemmed from the violence in the Macedonian Parliament of 27 April 2017 but also from numerous other cases with higher numbers of indicted. One possible solution is to move the Criminal Court into the new building, but that won’t solve the staff issue. The judicial reform ought to consider the courts’ capacities for dealing with the large number of various types of trials
Author: Sashe Dimovski
Vasko (a made-up name) has been arrested alongside a group of persons trying to smuggle a certain amount of marijuana from Macedonia into Greece. Vasko claims he has nothing to do with the transport of the drug, and the only thing that has linked him to the group is that one of the accused asked him to lend them a truck trailer. Vasko claims that it’s a matter of a business relationship, and not only he had nothing to do with it, but also he had no idea what will the borrowers use the trailer for.
The other arrested parties had pleaded guilty and had been convicted in a summary proceeding, because they confessed, while Vasko, who had decided to prove himself not guilty, is tried in a separate proceeding. He’s been detained for 10 months, house arrest in the last few months.
He was brought to trial in the Basic Court Skopje 1 by the Veles police, but there was no prosecutor in the courtroom. After 15 minutes of waiting, the judges (five-member judicial council) decided to call the prosecutor and ask him whether he is going to show up, since this a detention case, hence the urgency.
A PROSECUTOR IS HARD TO COME BY
The prosecutor from the Organized Crime and Corruption Office explains on the phone that he is at his office, conducting hearings of other persons in a different case, and he is going to show up if they are willing to wait for him, but he has scheduled another trial with another judge in the same court at the same time.
After additional 15 minutes, the prosecutor shows up, while the other judge who’s waiting for him and cannot start the trial is strolling up and down the court hallway with unease.
– My colleague, you would’ve been the first prosecutor punished for not showing up. We have such possibility, according to law. You cannot avoid showing up to a detention case – says judge Ognen Stavrev, who has punished a number of lawyers over not showing up at trials for the cases of the Special Prosecutor’s Office with 1.000 euros fine.
– I accept Your Honor, prosecutor Naum Panovski says, with an excuse that the entire prosecutor’s office is swarmed with clients and lawyers, there are hearings he has scheduled while trials are piling up and he, just like in this situation, has to attend two trials at the same time.
Following the opening statements, Vasko’s trial was postponed for presenting prosecution’s evidence, and then the second problem occurred: how to find an available time slot for a new trial.
Both judges started going through their schedulers and were quick to conclude that they have no available time slots because they arbitrate several cases of the SPO, some of which have multiple accused and are voluminous, while having a number of other detention cases. They can barely find one available time slot that suits the judges, but not the lawyer, who has a trial in Shtip that day, a traffic collision with casualties and he has to show up there. The judges have made a decision, there is no other time slot, it has to be then, so the deal is to schedule the trial in the afternoon, but they will begin when the lawyer shows up, because this detention case is urgent and there is no other possibility for holding trial for this case.
TIME SLOTS ARE HARD TO COME BY
This is not the only case being postponed or experiencing scheduling issues to SPO cases and the ongoing case for the events of 27 April (there are over 60 scheduled trials up to and including March 2019).
That case involves 32 defendants and over 60 lawyers, so finding a criminal lawyer for other cases not representing defendants in these big cases is quite a quest.
Due to the fact that lawyers are busy with several cases, the trial for the “Toplik” case against the ex-Minister of transport and communications, Mile Janakieski, and others for concluding a contract for the well-known case of Sun City in Sopishte was also postponed today.
Janakieski’s three lawyers: Sanja Aleksikj, Elenko Milanov and Doncho Nakov attended the “27 April” trial at the same time, and had notified the court two days before that they cannot attend the “Toplik” trial because “27 April” is a detention case and they have to be there.
However, judge Osman Shabani rejected their notification, and although they attended the “27 April” trial scheduled at the same time as this one, he decided to punish them with 1.000 euros fine.
The lawyers, who have been previously fined by this council, hadn’t filed a complaint against the decisions on their fines.
Apart from not being able to find available time slots for the other cases, smaller compared to SPO’s, the judges of the Basic Court Skopje 1 are facing a space issue, because the small courtrooms can accommodate around ten people. And when it comes to these cases, the number of the defendants alone is ten, plus their lawyers, plus the press, police, prosecution, there are 30+ people in the courtroom and it bursts at the seams.
IS MOVING AWAY HARD TO COME BY?
Court’s president Ivan Djolev, is not keen on forecasting when the court would move to the new building, which still stands empty, although ribbons were cut twice both by VMRO-DPMNE’s and SDSM’s Government. The second opening was 6 months ago, on 31 March, but only two courtrooms operate in an improvised manner and the court is open only when a trial is in session. During the rest of the time, it remains locked.
– Maybe we are going to move in October, I don’t know – Djolev says. Albeit opened twice, the court is missing plenty, starting from technical hindrances, to elaborations of safety as well as preposterous problems such as the non-functional sewage system full of cement.
The new building of the Criminal Court features one large courtroom hosting the “27 April” trial and can accommodate more than 100 people, and one smaller courtroom on the third floor, made of two merged courtrooms that can fit approximately 50 people. If fully functional, there would be three courtrooms including the one in the old building, then judges could determine which one of them is going to use a certain courtroom for trials involving large number of defendants.
The large packages of SPO’s evidence also hamper the moving process of the judges and court administration. So, if you were about to enter a judge’s office, the first thing you see will be the evidence packages, labeled with the famous names starting with “T” – “Toplik”, “Tank”, “Trajectory”, “Titanic”, “Torture”…
After the Criminal Court has moved into the new building, the old one is supposed to house the Administrative Court, according to one variant, while according to another, it would house the Academy for Judges and Public Prosecutors.