Parliament appoints judges in Montenegro, while the government determines their budget and even plays a role in providing them housing. Critics both inside and outside the country say major reforms are needed to ensure judicial independence and bring the sector into line with EU standards.
By Nedjeljko Nudovic for Southeast European Times in Podgorica -- 24/01/07
State Prosecutor Vesna Medenica says court delays lead to dismissed cases. [File]
EU foreign ministers on Monday (January 22nd) urged Montenegro to reform its judiciary and to combat corruption. Their call came amid criticism by Montenegrin state prosecutors, who say courts are inefficient and unable to keep up with the number of cases.
"Because of delays in the courts, processes are frequently terminated due to expiration of the legal deadline, while verdicts frequently reject accusations without due consideration," State Prosecutor Vesna Medenica said in a 2005 report. According to her, as many as 46.6% of trials have not been concluded.
"The number of unfinished trials testifies to the inadequacy of our courts, with the consequence that the fight against crime becomes inefficient, and the legal security of the citizens is undermined," Medenica said in the report.
Opposition politicians have long charged that the country's judges are controlled by the ruling structures, particularly since their appointment depends on the parliamentary majority.
Representatives of the judiciary acknowledge that this is the case. They argue that the power to appoint judges should be taken from parliament and given instead to a newly established Judiciary Council.
Other factors undermining judicial independence include lack of a separate budget and the government's role in the provision of housing for judges.
In its annual progress report, published in early November, the European Commission (EC) said corruption continues to be a widespread problem in Montenegro
"The overall legal and administrative framework contains loopholes which allow corrupt activities to take place and limit the capacity of the state to fight corruption efficiently," it said.
While welcoming steps Montenegro has taken to improve the training of judges, the EC stressed the need to depoliticise the appointments process. Appointments and promotions should be based on "professional and objective criteria", rather than political ones, it said.
Montenegrin Supreme Court President Ranko Vukoti agrees with the EC recommendations. "The current constitution and the expert draft of the new supreme legal document of Montenegro do not provide for the implementation of the international standards in independence and autonomy of the judiciary power," Vukoti said.
"I hope the new constitution will allow the best lawyers to become judges, halting the outflow of the best legal cadre into advocacy and other profitable professions," he added.