Judges unhappy with draft reform laws

BELGRADE -- Serbia's judges have voiced their dissatisfaction with the proposed judicial system reforms, contained in a set of new draft laws.

Their association is warning that the changes to the legislation would enable for political interests to take hold in the judiciary, and are also cautioning their colleagues that they will no longer be welcome in the organization if they accept to work according to the new rules.

The judges are unhappy with a range of solutions offered in the draft laws, related to their appointments – the fact that parliament should name the members of the first High Judicial Council, that will then deal with appointments.

They are also dissatisfied with the proposed new network of courts, and salaries and pensions.

Chairwoman of the Association of Judges of Serbia Dragana Boljević wonders if the politicians who drafted this legislation "would sit quietly if another political option was to conduct the appointment of judges".

Her association advises that the judges themselves choose the composition of the High Judicial Council.

Boljević also said she will propose that any judge who accepts to work under the new laws should resign from the association.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Justice officials, who sent the legislation to parliament, defend their position, and say the debate on the draft laws has been ongoing for the past year.

"We have sought a compromise solution in order to send the set of laws to parliament, because this set of laws is of urgency to us, for the sake of the visa liberalization and our country's accession to the EU," according to a state secretary with the ministry, Gordana Pualić.

European Association of Judges President Vito Monetti told his colleagues in Serbia recently that clear conditions for their appointments must be established.

"In my country, Italy, judges who perform poorly and do not respect the rights of people are held professionally responsible, and in this way, only the best remain. However, if you let all the judges go, or only some but without a clear criteria – that's the worst solution," he said.

MPs are due to start a debate on the contentious set of laws in parliament on Tuesday.