Western Balkans

The rule of law at the heart of the accession process

09/10/2019 - 14:09
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The National Conference on the Results and Effects of Judicial Reform

Photo: Adel Omeragic - Anadolu Agency

After the European parliamentary elections, and on the eve of the formation of the European Commission, the EU Ambassador to Montenegro, Aivo Orav, reiterated that the rule of law, including a properly functioning judicial system and the effective fight against corruption, will remain at the very heart of the EU accession process for Montenegro. This was all discussed during the Conference on the Results and Effects of Judicial Reform.

“In our annual report on Montenegro, we highlighted that it will be especially important to strengthen the independence and professionalism of the judiciary by improving human resource management. We stressed the need to strengthen accountability by implementing a code of ethics, focusing on the disciplinary responsibility of judges and prosecutors. Finally, it is also vital to step up the work on the rationalisation of the judicial network,” pointed out Orav.

Montenegro has made some progress over the last year in terms of increasing capacities in human resource management and disciplinary accountability. However, a lot of work remains to be done, highlighted Orav.

“The EU will continue to help. Our support for justice reform over the last five years amounts to more than €17 million and we will continue assisting reforms in the mentioned key areas. Our aim is to achieve tangible results by not only to bringing Montenegro closer to the EU membership but for the Montenegrin citizens to feel a real improvement when it comes to access to justice,” said Orav.

There are as many as 541 pending cases in the Montenegrin courts, for which proceedings were initiated as early as 2009, according to the Court Monitoring Report prepared by the Centre for Research and Monitoring (CeMI) in cooperation with CEDEM and the Network for the Affirmation of European integration processes.

Disturbing data from investigations into the number of pending criminal and civil cases, lengthy proceedings, delaying hearings, and violations of the right to presumption of innocence are cited as key problems in the further reform of the Montenegrin judiciary.

Ensuring the right to a fair and public trial within a reasonable time before an independent and impartial tribunal requires the support of the entire State system, said Supreme Court President, Vesna Medenica. Medenica said that, when it came to respecting the right to a fair trial during the main hearings, the courts respected the presumption of innocence, both through their conduct at the hearing and in their official public statements.

"It is worrying that the media, in reporting on criminal proceedings, continue to violate the presumption of innocence, that is, the print media in 16% of the cases, television stations in 13.8%, and portals in 6% of cases," Medenica explained.

She considers that office deficiencies, unsatisfactory financial standings and the low level of security of judges, court administration, and property in the courts, in their entirety, call into question the authority and regular functioning of the court, the obligation to respect and protect the right to a fair trial, and the efficiency of proceedings.

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