A British Council-led consortium has been working with agencies across Serbia to support the country’s justice reform process, to great success.
Funded by the EU, the Judicial Efficiency Project (JEP) began in February 2016 and works in partnership with local agencies such as the Supreme Court and Ministry of Justice to increase the accountability, impartiality and effectiveness of the justice sector.
Drawing on the UK’s experience in the sector, the programme is helping to embed structures and processes that will be key to the effective administration of justice in the country.
A key component of the programme centres on reducing the number of pending cases in Serbia’s courts. By the end of 2015 there were over 1.5 million enforcement cases older than two years blocking up the system.
Taking advantage of new legislation that allows for the transfer or administrative closure of certain cases, the team recruited a group of 50 support staff drawn from range of youth organisations. Together they spent six months working across the country, with a particular focus on the Belgrade First Basic Court. Conditions there were especially challenging - files were kept in a dilapidated warehouse, forcing the team to sift through a maze of paperwork, processing files for closure and aligning data with the judiciary’s electronic case management system.
Recently released court data suggests the results have been striking. In one year, JEP partner courts managed to reduce their backlogs by approximately 50%, closing over 720,000 cases.
Alongside this assistance, the team are supporting the wider reform of court procedures in areas such as human resourcing, data management and case weighting techniques, drawing on the expertise of partners at the UK Ministry of Justice, 4 Digits Consulting, Alternative Consulting, DMI Associates and Institut Mihajilo Pupin.
Brian LeDuc, Team Leader of the project, says:
‘The success of this effort can be attributed to the cooperation of the Supreme Court, High Judicial Council and Ministry of Justice, as well as court presidents, judges and the targeted assistance of British Council experts and support staff. It has been truly a team effort and, although there is still much work to do in 2017, in the final year of the JEP the courts have made a sizable difference in what has been a major impediment to efficiency over the past few years.’