Lack of BiH judiciary reforms criticised

09/12/2013

Although judicial reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina started in 2011, political pressure delayed the establishment of independent judicial institutions.

By Ana Lovakovic for Southeast European Times in Sarajevo -- 09/12/13

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BiH has several levels of legal systems, a structure that has been criticised by the European Commission. [AFP]

After six rounds of dialogue on judicial reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) between representatives of Republika Srpska, the Federation of BiH and the EU, the international community is urging officials to reach an agreement and implement judicial reforms.

Having an independent judiciary sector is a requirement for EU accession, and is crucial in anti-corruption efforts.

In a report to the UN last month, High Representative Valentin Inzko highlighted problems with respect for the rule of law in BiH, including political attacks on the state judicial institutions, and the problem of authorities failing to implement the decisions of the BiH Constitutional Court.

"An area of particular concern is the rule of law, where rhetorical attacks against the judicial institutions established to exercise the constitutional responsibilities of the state have continued. This political interference in the work of the judiciary was taken a step further in October, when the Republika Srpska National Assembly issued another set of conclusions against the state-level judiciary," Inzko told the UN.

"Another concern with the rule of law is the on-going failure of the domestic institutions to implement the verdicts of the BiH Constitutional Court, which are 'final and binding' under the terms of the Dayton Peace Agreement. Over 80 such decisions remain unimplemented," he said.

The Venice Commission report to the European Commission for 2012 noted that the general state of the judiciary in BiH gives cause for concern with regard to legal certainty and its independence.

The existence of several legal systems, the fact that state-level institutions are not mentioned in the constitution, the lack of co-operation between the judicial and other authorities and the availability of legislation and jurisprudence were cited as the main problems.

Officials in the country agree there is a problem.

BiH Chief Prosecutor Goran Salihovic condemned the attempts of political parties to influence the work of the Prosecutor's Office and its independence.

"Inappropriate political pressures on the work and independence of the prosecutor's office and the judiciary represent an impermissible political pressure, and crude and unacceptable political interference in the work of judiciary," Salihović recently told reporters.

Vehid Sehic, former judge and president of the NGO Forum of Tuzla Citizens, said that although only 10 percent of "major" cases are not resolved, these draw attention because they implicate senior political and government officials.

"In addition to the reforms that have been made but not completed, there is still the possibility of political influence on the choice of the judiciary. In BiH it is difficult to create an environment in which the courts and prosecutors' offices can work without political pressure from politicians and civil society," Šehic told SETimes.

He said that solving major cases in the area of crime and corruption always has a political background.

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"These 10 percent of pending cases are about high-ranked politicians for which the prosecution found evidence of a criminal offense of abuse of office, corruption or crime, the court upheld them and then all subjects were acquitted. Obviously something is missing in the system and citizens are losing confidence in the judiciary," Sehic said.

BiH Justice Minister Barisa Colak said the pace of reforms could be faster.

"We did a lot of things, most on amendments to legislation and shifting some items from the state to the entity level. However, I am not fully satisfied with the quality and speed of change. I think it should be much faster and harder to go to these changes. Surely we are late and did not do what we needed, but this is BiH, here things are going very slowly," Colak told SETimes.

What can BiH do to improve the quality and speed of judicial reforms? Tell us your thoughts below.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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