Sacked Serbian Judges to Return to Courtrooms

The Constitutional Court of Serbia has decided to overturn a decision by the High Judicial Council and reappoint 126 judges sacked as part of controversial judicial reforms.The Constitutional Court of Serbia accepted the complaints of 126 judges who were dismissed from the courts after the judicial reforms of 2009.

The court ruled on Thursday that the High Judicial Council – the body which appoints judges and decides on the appeals of non-elected judges – had failed to prove that the 126 judges did not meet the requirements for appointment.

According to the Court’s decision, the High Judicial Council has just 60 days to re-appoint the judges to their postsDragisa Slijepcevic, the president of the Constitutional Court, said that its decision was final.

The process of reforming the corpus of judges in Serbia began in 2009, when the Judicial Council was tasked with assessing all the country’s judges, about 3,000 in all, re-electing only those it deemed fit for office.

The process was completed in January 2010, by which time more than 800 of the 3,000 judges had lost their jobs.

International institutions and local legal specialists have been severely critical of the reform process, which was led by the Serbian Justice Minister and Democratic Party member, Snezana Malovic.

Legal experts accused the Judicial Council of not respecting the criteria, of sacking good judges for political reasons and of promoting others with deeply problematic records – and of doing all this far from the public eye.

Majority of those rejected then either appealed to the Constitutional Court in Serbia or the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg.

But in December 2010, three months after Serbia’s Constitutional Court started hearing the appeals, the government changed the law and gave the task to the High Judicial Council.

This meant that all the complaints were returned to the same body that had made the decisions the rejected judges were complaining about.

Following the decision of the High Judicial Council to uphold the dismissal of the majority of judges who appealed, the judges’ cases have finally reached the Constitutional Court.

About 450 of those who were dismissed have appealed the High Judicial Council‘s second decision not to re-appoint them.

Commenting on the first verdicts that have been delivered, Dragana Boljevic, the president of the Judges’ Association of Serbia, said that she hopes that all judges whose appeals are still being considered will be reappointed as well.

“What is more important [than the decision of the Constitutional Court] is that every European legal expert has proved that this re-election process endangers the independence of the judiciary and that this process shouldn’t have taken place at all,” said Boljevic, who was also not re-elected as a judge in 2009.

The High Judicial Council says that with this decision the Constitutional Court has unlawfully encroached on the jurisdiction of the Council, harming its independence and autonomy.

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