Matic reacts to Belgrade Bar Association initiative

Veran Matic, president of the Commission Investigating Murders of Journalists, has reacted to an initiative presented by the Belgrade Bar Association.

Source: B92
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(screen capture, file)
(screen capture, file)

Matic said he regarded the initiative to introduce new criminal act - "with the aim of effectively protecting the presumption of innocence and independence of the court" - as "rather dangerous, as much as it is senseless, given that it is being proposed by the representatives of the legal profession, and as professionals in this field, they should know basic principles of human rights protection and democratic society."

"Moreover, the initiative was 'provoked' exclusively by my public statement, and it stems not from true desire to protect presumption of innocence or court independence but rather to protect the interests of certain groups within Bar Association, along with their clients," he said in a statement on Friday, and added:

"Referring to the protection of presumption of innocence as an alleged reason for adopting amendments to the Criminal Code is rather cynical and completely dishonest. First of all, judges as the holders of significant positions, do not perform their duty in the vacuum and the effects of their activities can contribute to negative consequences in the society."

"I don't see anything controversial in my statement, especially as I had specifically underlined that it is my personal standpoint, caused by the way in which entire procedure has been handled, in the context of criticizing impunity for the violence towards journalists, indicated in the numerous relevant international and local reports. My criticism was based on the facts, and it was even confirmed in the second instance, on the part of the competent Court of Appeal," Matic said.

"To reiterate, my public announcement was not aimed at offending the presumption of innocence or exerting pressure on the independence of the courts. Namely, I had felt the need to speak up as part of professional public, as well as in my capacity as journalist, I wanted to express my standpoint on the inadequate procedures taken up by the court in the case that was of the utmost interest for the public and which decision can establish (negative) form of procedure in other similar cases. The principle of the presumption of innocence to which Belgrade Bar Association refers, is not introduced in order to fully prevent the criticism of the work of the courts, but to protect the rights of the defendants in the criminal procedure, primarily from the court itself, and not from the public. I want to underline again that the trials are open for public exactly in order to place courts under 'democratic control'," the president of the Commission said in the statement, adding:

"the Belgrade Bar Association intentionally treats this problem one-sidedly, stressing the violation of the presumption of innocence and court independence, as the only value that should be protected within the society. What about the right to freedom of expression? What about general principles of the protection of human rights, the rights being equally important, so one right is not a priori "stronger" and "more valuable" than the other? Do we witness "strong social need" to incriminate presenting views on court proceedings, so strongly as to request adoption of amendments to the law by urgent procedure? What happened with the democratic control of the work of the court? Is the measure of incrimination proportionate to the goal it wants to achieve? And what is its goal in general, except for pandering to the interests of one specific narrow group?"

Matic also described the initiative "as a normative and civilizational step backwards, because since 2012, legislative state body had decriminalized the criminal act of unauthorized public comment on court proceedings, as it pertains to 'unnecessary incrimination that limits the freedom of expression, while limiting the freedom of the media in the same time', and because in case this incrimination stays valid, 'it could lead to banning any comment in the means of public information of any case in front of the court', with clear conclusion that 'incorrect reporting of certain media on certain court proceedings and giving individual inadequate statements cannot justify criminal-legal repression, nor can it solve the problem of incorrect comments of the court proceedings in the media' (quoted from the Rationale of the Bill of Amendments to the Criminal Code from 2012)."

"Although I consider the reaction of the Judges' Association of Serbia primarily as the result of sincere conviction that they defend independence of the judges in such a way, I still think that such defense is not necessary to the judges with high professional and personal integrity, who make decisions by their conscience, and do not consider public announcements relevant," Matic said.

"Still, reactions of the Judges' Association of Serbia and Belgrade Bar Association regarding this case, as well as a series of controversial decisions made in the course of the last decade, show that there is strong social need of the public to closely monitor the work of judicial authorities, criticizing them if necessary," he said.

"If we do not have democratic control, impunity for the crimes will become a rule, not an exception, while instead of the rule of law, Serbia will be ruled by the interests connected with social anomalies and difficult legacy that Serbia is burdened with since the nineties. All of this cannot contribute to our aspirations to EU integration process, and it also makes our attempts for creating suitable framework for improving freedom of expression senseless, although the holders of most responsible positions in the state and the society advocate for that, at least in a declarative way," Matic concluded.

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