UNDP continues to support judicial reform in Montenegro
Further strengthening of an independent, impartial and accountable judiciary remains a priority for Montenegro in the European integration process. „A higher level of efficiency of the judicial system will also strengthen the quality of respect for human rights and the rule of law and it will create a favorable environment for foreign investment,“ said Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Minister of the Government of Montenegro Duško Marković at the opening of the public hearing on the draft 2014 – 2018 Judicial Reform Strategy.
Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Minister Duško Marković reminded that the amendments to the Constitution removed the possibility of political influence on the selection of highest ranked judicial functions.
Speaking of the judicial reform strategy for the coming period, Deputy Prime Minister Marković explained that it is about a document that represents a logical continuation of the 2007 - 2012 Strategy. „We thus provide continuity of reforms initiated in 2000 when the Government, being aware of the importance of efficiency and promptness in the judicial system and strengthening of its individual and independent position in the governing system, adopted a project of reform of the judicial system,“ he said.
Montenegrin judiciary then and now, as Deputy Prime Minister Marković pointed out, is not the same. „A quick look should suffice to notice improved material status of judges and prosecutors, improved physical and technical capacity, the establishment of the Judicial and Prosecutorial Council, developed training system for judicial officials and a developed system of random assignment of cases, notary, legal aid, alternative dispute resolution,“ the Minister of Justice stated.
Monitoring of the implementation of the strategy and the accompanying action plan will be entrusted to a council which shall be composed of representatives of judicial institutions and non-governmental organizations involved in the process of judicial reform.
President of the Supreme Court Ms. Vesna Medenica said that since the adoption of the first five-year strategy in 2007 the Montenegrin judiciary went through a process of positive transformation and became more efficient and more timely. „That is why the adoption of a new strategy is useful and necessary for the achievement of strategic goals to which we aspire - strengthening the independence, impartiality, accountability, transparency of judicial branches of the Government,“ said Ms. Medenica, and she added that those are primary objectives of the next cycle of reform.
Impartiality of the judiciary requires further reform of information systems through the development of an electronic random assignment of cases in all courts, as well as through statistical reporting on the length of court proceedings and work.
„Full implementation of the law, constant training of judicial officials, respect for human rights and international standards are the guiding principles of our work. We are aware that this is the only correct way to establish the rule of law and legal certainty, and that is our contribution to the building of Montenegro as a modern democracy,“ said Ms. Medenica.
Acting Chief State Prosecutor Veselin Vučković said that the implementation of the current five-year strategy incorporated significant changes in terms of independence and autonomy of Prosecution. „Strategic objectives contained in the draft Strategy recognize the direction of further strengthening of the Prosecutor's Office for fight against crime through establishing of a uniform judicial officials system, as well as through creating of a system for objective and transparent assessment of prosecutors, further professionalization of membership in the Prosecutorial Council and strengthening of financial independence of Prosecutor's Office,“ Mr. Vučković said.
Bearing in mind the successful cooperation with the Ministry of Justice in the preparation of the previous judicial reform strategy, representatives of UNDP in Montenegro considered as natural to provide expert and technical support in developing the new strategy and action plan for an important forthcoming five-year period.
UNDP Montenegro Democratic Governance Cluster Leader Ms. Sanja Bojanić said: „Our common intention is to embed in the strategy well and clearly defined goals of continuing reforms, as well as the necessary measures, indicators and timelines to achieve them. Also, the draft that is before us is done by relying on the experience in the region and with respect for the international standards. In order to successfully finalize this document - now we need opinions and inputs from relevant national and international partners,“ Ms. Bojanić said.
General Director in the Ministry of Justice Ms. Branka Lakočević emphasized in her presentation of the draft 2014 – 2018 Judicial Reform Strategy that the strategic objectives are relating primarily to the strengthening of the independence, impartiality and accountability of the judiciary. „We have a whole new chapter. It is the 'Montenegrin judiciary as a part of the European Justice',“ noted Ms. Lakočević.
The mentioned part of the strategy relates to the further development of international and regional judicial cooperation and institutional cooperation at international and regional level, as well as to the improving of judiciary officials' capacities. The strategy in one part deals with strengthening the availability, transparency and public confidence in the judiciary, and Ms. Lakočević pointed out that a lot has been done but there is still work to do.
Special attention will be given to further harmonization of jurisprudence, improvements in the free legal aid system, enhancing the availability of judicial organs, improving the transparency of the work of institutions, improving the system of judicial infrastructure and security of facilities, as well as developing policies and practices that will apply to vulnerable categories of persons.
When it comes to the development of the judiciary and other institutions in the function of the judiciary, Ms. Lakočević explained that that has been covered by the Ministry of Justice, the Judicial Council, Prosecutorial Council, Center for Education of the judiciary, lawyers, notaries, public enforcement agents, mediators, court expert and court interpreters. This document also determines the method of monitoring of the strategy implementation.
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Public consultation on the draft Judicial Reform Strategy (2014-2018) has been organized in light of the recent opening of negotiations between Montenegro and the EU in Chapters 23 and 24. This important strategic document should contribute to a better implementation of the Action Plan for the Chapter 23, because it clarifies a number of measures indicated therein.
The UNDP Montenegro has been supporting the Ministry of Justice in judicial reform since 2004. In 2007 it provided the Ministry of Justice with expert and technical assistance in drafting the previous Judicial Reform Strategy (2007-2012) and the Action Plan for its implementation, including the preparation of budgets and fiscal impact of the Action Plan. Back then, this document was recognized by the authors of the EU Progress Report as a clear road map for judicial reform in the country. The main objectives of the previous Judicial Reform Strategy were focused on strengthening the independence, autonomy and efficiency of the judiciary, the availability of judicial organs and access to justice, strengthening international and regional cooperation, fight against crime and corruption, terrorism and organized crime, prison reform and reform of judicial information system.
Besides supporting the creation of a comprehensive strategic framework, UNDP has in the past partnered in the development and implementation of projects for strengthening the capacity of the Ministry in organizational terms and in the areas of strategic planning and better donor coordination, implementation and improvement of free legal aid and mediation systems, as well as strengthening the capacity of the judiciary to combat corruption and organized crime. Currently, joint efforts are focused on the creation of plans for the integrity of all judicial institutions in Montenegro and on strengthening the capacity of the Ministry of Justice in the field of mutual legal assistance. A new project should start soon, too, for the purpose of support to the Government of Montenegro in EU accession negotiations in Chapters 23 and 24.