A more efficient judiciary
In Croatia, the quality and efficiency of the Croatian judicial system is being strengthened by bringing its practices in line with European standards.
Among the key challenges faced by the Croatian judicial system are long court procedures and a significant backlog of cases. The unreasonable delays in court proceedings violate the right to a fair trial within a reasonable time as protected by Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and are therefore very important to address. To counter this, the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Croatia and Council of Europe’s European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ) conducted a project with the aim of creating a more stable and efficient judicial environment.
Funded by Norway through the Norway Grants, the project was composed of two main activities: the renovation of Court House in Karlovac and introducing time-management and other relevant CEPEJ tools for strengthening judicial system.
Through the project, the SATURN tools developed by CoE’s European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ) were introduced in all 24 newly established municipal courts in Croatia. The tools are designed to improve time management and the quality of delivery of justice and have been widely used across Europe.
One of the courts participating in the project is the Karlovac Municipal Court. When analysing the SATURN recommendations, the court administration found that although some of them have already been implemented in the court, others have not been included in a consistent manner, contributing to the backlog of cases.
By working together with the CEPEJ experts, the judges and court advisors have been able to get a clearer picture of the different ways in which individual court offices work. This has allowed them to create timeframes for case handling and identify ways to move forward.
As a part of the project, CEPEJ experts created an Action Plan for justice efficiency improvement which included proposed activities for introducing and advancing time management. The Action Plan was implemented at Municipal court in Karlovac as a pilot court. In order to have an overall picture of the cases for the entire court, as well as individual court offices, the Action Plan provided tools for a systematic and continuous monitoring of all types and groups of cases through time frames, and stressed the need for enhancing mediation and early court settlements:
“Setting up uniform timeframes for certain types or groups of cases is a novelty that began equalizing these differences and encouraging individual court offices to change their procedures,” said President of the Municipal court in Karlovac Mr Tomislav Maras. He also noted that the CEPEJ involvement has had a positive impact on the court:
“The cooperation and the understanding of CEPEJ experts for problems of the court arising in the current legal framework and procedures has not only led to a greater transparency regarding work results, but also to a more positive atmosphere among judges to achieve the set goals despite obstacles”.
Based on the Action Plan and the experiences collected during its implementation, a guidance manual for judges was created by CEPEJ experts to help all judges in Croatia in introducing time management which was presented to court presidents and judges from other municipal courts in three regional workshops.
The SATURN tools are also being used to increase understanding the experience of using the courts system. This is done through pilot satisfaction surveys for court users and attorneys. The results of the surveys were analysed in order to find out where improvements are needed.
“This feedback can and must be used for the improvement of work, especially in those areas that, according to the results of the survey – are not the best rated” said President of the Municipal Court in Varaždin Mr Alan Pretković who also added that the survey will be especially useful as a benchmark from which future improvements can be measured.
Karlovac Court House – Better facilities
The project also includes renovations to the Karlovac Court House in which Karlovac County court, Karlovac Municipal court, Karlovac County state Attorneys’ office and Karlovac Municipal State Attorneys’ Office are located.
The aim of the renovation is to create a better working environment and improved accessibility. This is being done by renovating offices, installing an elevator and building a new restroom for persons with limited mobility. The renovation started at the end of 2015 and is expected to be finished in April 2017.