Improving Justice: Affordable and Timely Access When You Need It Most

Thursday, July 18, 2019
State Attorney Olivera Stanimirović signing the Guidelines with the president of the Supreme Court of Cassation, minister of justice and Judicial Academy director.
USAID Serbia

The Serbian Constitution guarantees Serbian citizens the right to a trial within a reasonable amount of time. This right has also been guaranteed to Serbian citizens at the international level since 2004, when Serbia became a member of the Council of Europe and a signatory to the European Convention of Human Rights.  Since this time, Serbian citizens have also had the possibility to file a complaint related to violations of their right to trial in a reasonable time against the Serbian Government in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).  Between 2004 and 2017, 29 judgments dealing with the right to a fair trial and 36 judgments related to the length of proceedings[1] were brought against the Serbian Government. The decisions of the ECHR come with a cost. Based on all the judgements made by this court in the past decade alone, Serbia has paid over EUR 7.5 million to its damaged citizens[2].

In an attempt to improve timely access to justice, the Government of Serbia adopted the Law on the Protection of the Right to a Trial within a Reasonable Time (The Law). The Law has been in effect since January 1, 2016 and provides legal remedies and compensation for violations of the right to a trial within a reasonable time.  One method of “speeding things up” is to allow the Serbian Government’s legal representatives, the State Attorney's Office, to settle cases related to violations of the right to trial in a reasonable time. Although prescribed by the law, before 2018, settlement provisions were rarely applied. Out of 1,200 requests to conclude out-of-court settlements, only three were concluded.

The Serbian State Attorney recognized that there was insufficient implementation of the Law, and with the assistance of USAID’s Rule of Law Project (ROL Project), gathered stakeholders including the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Finance, the Supreme Court of Cassation, the High Court Council, and the Judicial Academy, and on July 18, 2018 they signed Guidelines for the Promotion of the Procedure for the Conclusion and Execution of Extrajudicial Settlement in Proceedings for the Protection of the Right to a Trial Within a Reasonable Time.  The Guidelines assist in resolving the shortcomings of the current legal provisions related to settlement by simplifying settlement procedures and allows all settlements to be executed from a single budget line from the budget of Serbia’s High Court Council.

“We in the State Attorney’s Office were aware of the obstacles and challenges the institutions were facing when it comes to the implementation of this law, and we knew we have to be that driving force in a joint effort to address them,” said Olivera Stanimirovic, Serbia’s State Attorney. “However, without USAID’s Rule of Law project, we were struggling to get the attention of other stakeholders. We are thankful to the project for their facilitating role during all these round table discussions, which led to adoption of this important document.”

This new approach saves courts and citizens money and delivers resolutions to citizens’ grievances more quickly.  There were153 out-of-court settlements between July and December of 2018.    These settlements resulted in a total of savings of 22,338 days’ worth of time. Specifically, the 153 out-of-court settlements showed that, on average, one settlement procedure now takes 48 days, compared to the average length of a trial in Serbia, which takes 194 days. On average, one out-of-court settlement procedure now costs $15 in court fees, which is nearly ten times less than the court fees for a full court proceeding.

“The benefit of this instrument is three-fold,” concluded State Attorney Stanimirovic. “The damaged citizens receive their money very quickly, the backlog of cases is decreasing, which gives time to the judges to deal with other cases, and the government is ultimately saving money--not only by avoiding the costs of full court proceedings, but also by avoiding paying high compensations to damaged Serbian citizens according to the decisions of the European Court for Human Rights.”

The cooperation of the USAID ROL Project and State Attorney’s Office has not stopped with the adoption of the guidelines. The ROL Project is helping the State Attorney’s Office train judges and court presidents on how to effectively apply the guidelines and is assisting in informing citizens about the settlement processes.

Last updated: July 18, 2019

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