Case backlogs exist in more than half of Serbian courts. In an effort to assist the judicial branch of Serbia in making its administration of justice more efficient, transparent, and responsive to the needs of its users EWMI’s USAID funded Separation of Powers Program (SPP) selected five courts to assist with efforts to reduce the number of old cases. With guidance from SPP, each court developed its own plan and goals to reduce backlogs in specified case types over a nine month period starting in June 2009, and SPP has been providing ongoing monitoring and consultation to assist with implementation of the plans. “There has been a jump in the quality of our backlog reduction efforts since we started working with SPP”, reported Nis Municipal Court President Biljana Miladinovic in October 2009. Out of 314 of the hardest, most complex, and oldest cases targeted for backlog reduction at the start of the project, the Nis court has resolved 193 of these cases as of October 2009, a 61% reduction, with 4 months remaining in the project.
Other courts have reported similar success. The Subotica Municipal Court set a goal of reducing 304 old investigative cases by 30%, and as of October 22, 2009 the court had reduced the backlog by 50%. Novi Pazar District Court targeted to reduce the number of all pending first-instance criminal cases two years old and older. As of October 20, 2009 the court had reduced the number of those cases together with those that would become old as of December 31, 2009, at a rate of 170% greater than the norm set for judge performance. The Second Municipal Court in Belgrade started 2009 with nearly 4,000 old cases, some of them older than 20 years. As of October 21, 2009 the court had resolved more than 800 of those old cases, a 20% reduction, and no longer had any cases 20 years or more. “The SPP program is a source of motivation and impetus,” remarked one of the judges on its backlog reduction team at a recent meeting.
SPP has encouraged the courts to gain the cooperation and support of outside agencies that affect the court’s work. The Vranje Municipal Court used the cooperation of the police to deliver verdicts in criminal cases, thus speeding up delivery and case closure time by 10-15 days over the previous practice of delivery by the Post Office. With encouragement from SPP, the District Court president in Novi Pazar initiated communications with the postal director and the head of police. As a result, the postal director stated that he will discipline any employee who does not deliver court documents properly. The Subotica court president met with the head of the police to develop a joint plan for dealing with anticipated violence at a recent local football match. “The success of this cooperation bodes well for good communication between the court and police in the future,” said Ivan Bogosavljev, Court President, during an October site visit.
The successful efforts of these courts have been reported to the Serbia Ministry of Justice for inclusion in national requirements for court case backlog reduction. SPP will add more courts to its backlog reduction project in 2010. USAID funding for this East-West Management Institute implemented project will continue until August 2013.