The judicial reform has been curtailed to technical details

Photo: pixabay. Collage: Truthmeter

The Government has submitted the Law on Courts with the European Flag to the Parliament of the Republic of Macedonia, which is one of the key legislative acts for a successful implementation of the judicial reform. However, the analysis of the law shows that the reform has been curtailed to technical details, instead of providing substantial change. The names “Skopje 1” and “Skopje 2” are deleted and the two courts will be named Basic Criminal Court and Basic Civil Court.

 

The Government has submitted the Law on Courts with the European Flag to the Parliament of the Republic of Macedonia, which is one of the key legislative acts for a successful implementation of the judicial reform. However, the analysis of the law shows that the reform has been curtailed to technical details, instead of providing substantial change. The names “Skopje 1” and “Skopje 2” are deleted and the two courts will be named Basic Criminal Court and Basic Civil Court.

 

Author: Sashe Dimovski

 

The Government wants to reform the judiciary with a law that has 39 articles and the European Flag that it has forwarded to the Parliament of the Republic of Macedonia.

In just one sentence: The “substantial” amendments according to the Government are: the removal of the terms “Skopje 1” and “Skopje 2” from the names of the Skopje courts, restoration of some powers of the courts that were abolished in 2005 by the government of SDSM and DUI and the possibility of transfer to another court after 4 years if a judge is unsatisfied with the basic or appellate court he/she had been appointed to.

There are no amendments regarding the number of courts, the suggested repeal of the “little judges”, there is no change in the process of electing the judges, there are multiple alternative and disciplinary measures prior to probable dismissal of a judge.

But, let’s see the reforms foreseen by this law, which is yet to be passed:

provides the presidents of courts with the possibility to form specialized departments for certain type of cases – as many as they need;

the terms “Skopje 1” and “Skopje 2” are deleted, hence the two courts shall bear the names Basic Criminal Court Skopje and Basic Civil Court Skopje;

the courts in Kichevo, Kavadarci and Gevgelija shall restore the powers that were abolished in 2005 and they shall become courts with broaden remit and shall also rule on the transfer of convicts, on the recognition of foreign decisions, on felonies and on civil and trade cases;

Government’s justification is that the citizens of Gevgelija, Kavadarci and Negotino found Veles distant, so in order to bring justice closer to them, it is going to restore the remit of these courts, yet not immediately, but as of 1 January 2021, or after 16 years.

 

THE COURT IN DEBAR UNDER THE COURT IN KICHEVO

Apart from restoring the remit of the Basic Court Kichevo, that was repealed in 2005, this law’s greatest debacle is that it gives to Kichevo Court the jurisdiction in the teritories of Debar and Centar Zhupa municipalities. Kichevo and Debar aren’t connected with any sort of road infrastructure and they are not even geographically close, so the question why the Basic Court Gostivar is no longer in charge remains unclear.

To paint a picture, the citizens of Debar, Zhupa and Mavrovo, who gravitate to Gostivar, are supposed to travel almost all the way to Gostivar and then have to head back via Strazha to Kichevo, since the road across the Boshkov bridge is for tractors only, while the forest road from Izvor near Kichevo via Lopushinik to Debar can be crossed only with a horse.

Dragi Bileski, a retired judge of the Basic Court Kichevo, who had worked at this court for almost 40 years, says that the Kichevo court has never been in charge of Debar..

The court in Kichevo has had up to three court departments in larger places like Makedonski Brod or Samokov in the past. Judges from Kichevo used to go there to judge, but we have never been in charge of Debar – says Dragi Bileski, a retired judge.

The Kichevo court was under the Skopje Appellate Court until 2006, when it was placed under the Bitola Appellate Court and 12 years later the Gostivar Appellate Court was formed and was made principal to the Kichevo Court.

Further, the law that is supposed to reform the judiciary anticipates a category of so called “young judges” who would judge uncomplicated and small cases in the first two years after they have been appointed, such as the cases that are now judged in Vinica, Krushevo or Kratovo.

“It has been estimated that the period of two years is enough for the young judges to gain expertise in order to be included in the regular schedule of ongoing cases” – is the explanation of the Ministry of Justice.

However, these judges, who must graduate from the Academy for Judges, cannot specialize and meet the law-stipulated requirements for appointment in higher courts solely by working on the said types of cases.

 

THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL SHALL NUMBER THE JUDGES

From now on, the Judicial Council shall define the optimal number of judges and lay judges in courts, since it has been established that “there is no human resource plan, neither a strategic plan for employing judges or public prosecutors, as well as legal collaborators or other support staff. The vacancy notice for judges and public prosecutors published by the Judicial Council and the Council of Public Prosecutors seems haphazardly written.

This law also obliterates the obligation for the judges to provide certificates for mastery of foreign languages. Their knowledge shall be tested during the entry examination and they shall visit foreign language learning courses afterwards.

If a judge of a basic or appellate court with 4 years of service doesn’t like the court he/she works at, they can demand transfer to another court anywhere in Macedonia and there is also the opportunity for Macedonian judges at the European Court for Human Rights to become judges in Macedonia. On the other hand, the lecturing judges at the Academy for judges shall have smaller workload.

If a judge is elected public prosecutor, which happened twice so far in Macedonia, their office shall be in hiatus.

If the Judicial Council starts a procedure against a judge, he/she shall not be suspended immediately, as is the case now, but “only if the reason is justified”. In future, judges shall be dismissed only in case of grave violations and judges shall not be dismissed if just one of her/his judgments has violated the right of trial within a reasonable deadline, confirmed by the Strasbourg court. According to this law, judges shall retire at the age of 67.

Additionally, judges shall not be referred to the Academy for Judges and Public Prosecutors for attending additional lessons if lack of expertise has been established.

 

ACCEPTANCE OF MOTIONS DURING STRIKE

One of the reforms anticipated by this law is the formation of a Council for ICT Coordination within the judicature. Also, the president of the Supreme Court shall be held responsible for the functioning of the Automated Court Case Management Information System.

If courts go on strike, written motions must be received so the citizens won’t suffer.

All of these amendments, announced as a judicial reform, are explained by the Ministry of Justice i.e. the proposer as follows:

“This law shall provide higher quality in terms of the election of judges given the rigorous criteria for electing judges. The grounds for dismissal and responsibility of judges have been lessened, made precise and comply with the international standards. The proposed amendments shall have a positive impact on the independence of the Macedonian judiciary” – is the conclusion of the Ministry of Justice.

 

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