Centre for Civic Education (CCE) points to the importance of the preliminary observations of Margaret Sattertwaitte, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, who recently visited Montenegro, and on which occasion a representative of the CCE took part in a meeting with non-governmental organizations.
These observations provide a very useful cross-section of the situation for the judiciary, but also different actors who, from their positions, can contribute to the improvement of judicial independence, the integrity of judiciary and access to justice in Montenegro. Unfortunetely, they have unfairly received less attention in the current Montenegrin dynamics.
A significant part of the recommendations, as well as warnings to politicians, focuses on the necessary depoliticization of the judiciary, which the CCE has been warning about for years. It was precisely the political decisions that kept the Constitutional Court without a quorum and blocked for months, leading to the denial of the citizens’ right to this form of judicial protection. Furthermore, the political decision-makers still limit the strategic management of the judiciary and the prosecutor by not appointing the Supreme State Prosecutor in full term and not completing the composition of the Judicial Council.
CCE points out that it is also good to point to some of the elements through which the true dedication of the executive authorities to the fight against corruption and organized crime is measured, and those are the conditions in which judges and prosecutors work, starting with the insufficient number and inadequate courtrooms, through the way of guarding evidential material to a functional information system, then fair compensation for their work, but also protection, in order to preserve the professionals in that system. This is where the authorities have failed and the efforts to improve this part do not match the rhetorical commitment to this struggle, but also the frequent taking of credit by politicians despite this lack of systemic support for the judiciary. This aspect is apostrophized in the observations of the UN special rapporteur.
On the other hand, it is also instructive that there is a need to strengthen respect for ethical norms in the judiciary and prosecutorial organization. The extremely small number of disciplinary procedures does not indicate the infallibility of judges and prosecutors, but the professional solidarity which does not contribute to strengthening responsibility, especially in a system that carries numerous risks of corruption. Also, as a key step in the further professionalization of judges and prosecutors, the additional introduction of checks on their work is recommended.
Too long court proceedings send a bad message and can repair low confidence in the justice system. Also, non-execution of final court decisions is noted. The Government in the technical mandate is leading in that. This suppresses the fact that someone who fought for his right in court did not receive justice and renders the entire procedure meaningless, and introduces the country into a state of legal uncertainty.
Finally, UN special rapporteur emphasizes the dynamic and committed civil society in Montenegro. This is gaining significance in the context of the unfavourable environment in which critical- thinking NGOs operate in the country today, primarily due to the authorities that do not tolerate criticism and abuse institutions and loyal actors for their own disputes.
CGO assesses that this document once again underlined the key problems in the area of judicial independence, but also provided certain framework recommendations that decision-makers should follow with due care.
Mira Popović Trstenjak, Democratisation and Europeanisation Programme Coordinator