In this Brief Alert, prEUgovor reacts to procedural and material shortcomings in regard to the drafting of five judicial laws with the aim of implementing the constitutional amendments from 2022. The public debate took place during the holiday period, and the received comments were not even considered before the Government sent the draft laws to the National Assembly. Key deficiencies of the five bills from the anti-corruption and human rights point of view are briefly pointed out.
One year after the adoption of the constitutional amendments in the field of justice, the drafting of the set of judicial laws (Law on Judges, Law on the Public Prosecutor’s Office, Law on the High Judicial Council, Law on the High Prosecutorial Council and Law on the Organisation of Courts) is coming to an end. Members of the prEUgovor coalition submitted comments on the draft texts during the public debate that lasted from 12 December 2022 to 15 January 2023. The Government of Serbia adopted the proposed laws as early as on 17 January, but it is questionable whether the submitted comments were considered at all, which makes the public debate meaningless.
A total of 58 documents containing the comments submitted by various organisations and individuals were published on the website of the Ministry of Justice, but no mandatory reports - which might have explained why certain comments were (not) taken into account - were published on the public debates that were conducted regarding the above five laws. Also, it is not known whether the opinions of all competent institutions were obtained in this short period of time, since they were not published either.
The provisions that were the subject of the public debate are numerous and significant, and the deadline for aligning the laws with the constitutional amendments is set to expire on 9 February. The prescribed deadline for publishing the report on the public debate is usually 15 days (30 January 2023). For this reason, the parliamentary discussion could easily begin, and even end, without the people’s deputies knowing why the suggestions received during the public debate were not accepted, even if the Ministry of Justice does fulfil its obligation.
We hereby appeal to the deputies to consider the comments that were submitted during the public debate and offer amendments to improve the five proposed judicial laws. In line with the above, as well as with the suggestions of the Venice Commission, this quick reaction represents an attempt of the prEUgovor coalition to point out problems that might be more obvious to readers from Serbia than to experts who look at the norms from the point of view of international standards. The shortcomings observed of the texts and the recommendations for their improvement are however presented only briefly. Based on the expertise of the members of the coalition, comments were made with the view of improving the fight against corruption and the protection of fundamental rights included in Chapter 23 of the accession negotiations between Serbia and the European Union.
Viewed from the standpoint of anti-corruption, some of the main shortcomings of the presented drafts are a direct consequence of deficient constitutional amendments, primarily those referring to the immunity, composition and the method of electing members of the judicial councils. On the other hand, the current texts of the proposed laws can be significantly improved in a way that would largely achieve the objectives of judicial reform within the norms of the amended Constitution. Greater independence, i.e. autonomy must also bring greater responsibility of judges and public prosecutors for the decisions they make, especially in cases of violations of ratified international treaties and laws.
Note: Although this text was written while the Laws were still in the draft stage, the suggestions also apply to the proposed laws.
Update: The Ministry of Justice published reports on conducted public debates on five judicial draft laws on January 20 2023. Almost 90% of suggestions given by prEUgovor members Autonomous Women’s Center and Transparency Serbia have not been accepted.