On her way towards the European Union the Republic of Croatia took and is taking a number of steps to strengthen the justice sector. The most important step was taken in 2005 when the Government of the Republic of Croatia passed the Strategy of the Reform of the Judicial System, and thereafter an Action Plan for its realisation. The Croatian Parliament acknowledged these two documents in February 2006. The Strategy's main goals are to strengthen the rule of law and independence of the judicial system and to improve its efficiency.
It includes the necessary reform of Croatian court administration and envisages changes to the management of the work of the courts. The measures are designed to create a justice system based on the rule of law, with the full application of all the principles from the European Court of Human Rights.
In Croatia, judicial power is, in terms of Constitution, an autonomous and independent power, exercised by the courts. Procedures for the appointment and dismissal of judges and decisions regarding their disciplinary responsibilities are within the competence of a specific independent justice body, the State Judicial Council, composed mostly of judges.
In relation to the impartiality of the judiciary, a new Code of Judicial Ethics was adopted in 2006. A new Code is currently being drafted for public prosecutors and their deputies as well. The most recent amendments to the Courts Act introduced the obligation to file declarations of assets for all judges.
With the goal of creating the justice system which will be accessible to all citizens, we are about to complete the work on drafting the Act on Free Legal Aid.
The professionalism and training of judicial officials has an impact on the quality of the justice system. The Judicial Academy was established in 2004 with a view to providing the continuous professional training of judicial officials.
The Constitution of Croatia and the new Courts Act of 2005 provide for the protection of the right to a fair trial within a reasonable time. Accordingly, a party to court proceedings who believes that the competent court has not decided on his or her right or obligation within a reasonable time, may submit such a request to the immediately superior court. If founded, a time limit will be set in which the court before which the proceedings are pending must decide and grant appropriate compensation to the applicant for the violation of his or her right to a trial within a reasonable time.
In 2004 we launched a number of organizational and legislative measures aimed at reducing the large number of unresolved cases. Since then, we have recorded especially good results in resolving land registry and enforcement cases.
The Government of the Republic of Croatia began the process of rationalization of court network by adopting the Conclusion on 9 March 2007, accepting the principle of rationalization by merging 10 courts in 2007.
The adoption of the Framework Criteria for the Work of Judges is in the final stage as well as the new Methodology for Evaluating the Performance of Judicial Office which is equally important.
The first results of Alternative dispute resolution methods show that not only Croatian courts, but also citizens and attorneys have recognized this method of dispute resolution as an acceptable and less expensive alternative to court proceedings.
Misdemeanor and criminal procedural reforms are intended to additionally disburden the courts, but also to simplify and accelerate these proceedings and make them less expensive.
The reform of administrative adjudication will resolve the dilemma regarding the jurisdiction of the Administrative Court of the Republic of Croatia as a court of full jurisdiction and the rights guaranteed by Article 6 of the ECHR.
The introduction of IT into the courts is yet another requirement for a modern justice system. In this connection, the Ministry of Justice is developing the “Integrated Case Management System” (ICMS).
Republic of Croatia, as a candidate for a full EU membership, is successfully co-operating in the projects financed by EU. Through these projects the Ministry of Justice, Croatian judges and public prosecutors use the experience and best practice of their colleagues from the EU countries, which we consider extremely important in achieving our goals, creation of a judicial system founded on the modern EU standards and principles which, by its quality, will serve the public weal of all its citizens.
We can be satisfied with the results achieved so far, but we are aware that we still have a great deal of work to do. The reform of the justice system is a lengthy process in all countries, which cannot be completed overnight. The Croatian Government and Croatian citizens are nevertheless determined in their intention to meet all the criteria required for the Republic of Croatia to join the EU in 2009.
Snježana Bagić, State Secretary
Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Croatia