Why changes are needed in the judiciary: Judges are reciprocally elected, supervised, and (not) punished
The public should have more insight into the selection of judges, candidates for the State Judicial Council (SJC) must disclose family ties, courts should publish non-anonymous decisions that are available to the public, it is necessary to limit judges' extrajudicial activities, and the public should have more insight into judges' disciplinary procedures. These are the recommendations of the Gong to increase the transparency of the judicial system and restore the trust of citizens, presented by lawyer Sanja Pavić.
The recommendations were discussed today at a roundtable meeting attended by a member of the State Judicial Council, members of Parliament, a law professor, a journalist, and a representative of a civil society organization. They supported Gong's recommendations and suggested adding to their proposals. Unfortunately, the President of the State Judicial Council, Darko Milković, canceled his participation this morning, the Minister of Justice, Ivan Malenica, stated that he could not participate, and Dražen Bošnjaković, member of the SJC and representative of HDZ, did not accept the invitation to participate.
"SJC should commit to submitting annual reports with all complete data and publish decisions on disciplinary proceedings. The Supreme Court must publish its judgments as soon as possible - no later than 15 days after the judgment is rendered. It is important that court decisions be published, both for the public and for litigants. While the European Court of Human Rights announces its judgment in 2 days, our Supreme Court takes more than 6 months to announce a single decision. If you ask why this is so, the answer is ‘anonymization’," according to Alan Uzelac, professor at the Faculty of Law in Zagreb
He added that the cooperation between the Ministry of Justice and the SJC is indeed insufficient, not only in terms of transparency, but also in shaping the role and function of the judicial system itself.
"We still do not have publication of case law at all levels, anonymization is constantly used as an argument. Why can not this verdict be published on the Internet? I would say that this is resistance from within. Publication and easy search capabilities contribute to the uniformity of judicial practice. Absolutely every verdict should be available," said Sandra Benčić, President of the Deputy Club of the Green and Left Block.
SDP President Peđa Grbin believes that all judgments must be published in a machine-readable format. He suggests changing Gong's recommendations and merging the State Judicial Council and the State Attorney's Council into one body: "We have largely left the selection of judges and prosecutors to a situation where colleagues select their colleagues, which encourages the formation of cliques." We have pushed them to ensure their own survival, which reduces transparency and the introduction of new staff. We have put colleagues in charge of tenure control. Some of the colleagues have been put in a disadvantageous position, which then affects their work. We should not force colleagues to control their colleagues. The control system in Croatia is headed by Zdravko Mamić." He added that he believes that political will is needed first and foremost to improve the judicial system in Croatia.
Arsen Bauk, member of the Deputy Club of the Social Democratic Party of Croatia and member of the State Judicial Council, agreed with the problem of access to judges' asset declarations and stressed that according to the rules only one or two members have access to judges' property cards, which is neither transparent nor public. In response to a question from moderator Slavica Lukić, Bauk said that as a member of the SJC, he has no insight into the asset declarations or the report of the Expert Service on the proceedings.
"The SJC, if it finds suspicion, cannot initiate disciplinary proceedings against a judge. The whole control mechanism is actually not functional," said Neven Mates of the Centre for Democracy and Law Miko Tripalo. He also said that it is necessary to immediately start publishing non-anonymous court decisions in disputes against the media, as this is the way to fight SLAPP lawsuits.
"The judiciary responds to criticism - with criticism, defensively. There is a lack of taking responsibility for the quality of work in justice and politics. Criteria are based on quantity, not quality. The public often does not understand what the judiciary means by justice. The public looks for ‘street justice,’ so we who seek change in the judiciary act as if we want to destroy institutions, which we do not.
It happens that the list of disgraced judges is published, and then it is no longer possible to do their job with quality. The atmosphere of lynching is not conducive to improving the situation in the judiciary," Nikola Grmoja, a member of the Deputy Club of the Bridge, expressed his opinion.
Damir Dević, a journalist who has been following the judiciary for many years, believes that the recommendations refer to the semi-professional or professional public. Therefore, increasing transparency in this way cannot lead to greater trust of the majority of citizens in the system and institutions.
"Criminal justice policy is crucial in this context. It is not enough that the judgement be merely within the bounds of the law; it must also conform to some degree to the criteria of a layman's sense of justice. Because the justice of our courts is often below the expectations of citizens," he said.
"The elementary sense of justice achieved by the judicial system is lacking. People do not believe that all judges are corrupt but, worse, that judges who are not corrupt protect predetermined positions of power in society. Convictions related to the crime of political corruption regularly resulted in community service or suspended sentences. Such sentences do not create the impression among citizens that judicial proceedings bring justice," Benčić agreed.
"To be trusted, the judiciary must be independent, but also accountable. It must be willing to be more transparent and open, and thus to trust us, the citizens, more. We are also glad that within the system itself there is a desire to question existing practices, as expressed, for example, by the President of the Supreme Court Radovan Dobronić regarding the external activities of judges. Regulation of external engagement of judges is also among Gong's recommendations," said Gong Director Oriana Ivković Novokmet.