Author: Goran Lefkov
The judicial system in the country is facing serious reforms. We have the biggest number of judges in Europe, we have the biggest number of courts as well, but why are we not leaders in receiving justice?
Margarita Caca Nikolovska, a former judge at the European Court of Human Rights, believes that at the moment no adequate answer can be given for the number of judges. According to the standards of the European Union, the number of judges in relation to the number of our population is large, writes truthmeter.mk.
The Ministry of Justice was to analyze the number of judges needed in the system. There are some courts that do not have cases, other courts have too many cases, and the balance is problematic. They were trying to do something by allocating cases to the less engaged courts, but it is all temporary. The question is how much that process of allocation is organized to lead to uniform quality, thinks Caca Nikolovska.
She adds that an appropriate allocation of cases should be made, and to make appropriate educational preparations for the courts with reduced jurisdiction. Then the vacancies are going to have to be filled with staff from the Academy for Judges and Prosecutors.
Iskra Opetčeska, a journalist who is well acquainted with the judicial system in North Macedonia, 2 years ago researched and compared our judicial system with the Estonian one.
Estonia has nine courts with 242 judges per 1.31 million inhabitants. The first instance courts employ 153 judges. In Macedonia, with just over 2 million inhabitants and this number is only on paper, because the real estimates are that in the country live far fewer people, there were as many as 34 courts with four court departments and about 540 active judges by the end of 2017, Opetčeska says.
She adds that the number of judges and courts is not crucial for a larger level of justice.
With 24.37 judges (data for 2019) per 100,000 inhabitants, the Republic of North Macedonia has a higher number of judges per capita than the European Commission for Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ) which has 21.5 (CEPEJ Report 2016).
The Judicial Network Human Resources Strategy (p. 20), published in September 2020 and funded by the European Union, states that the current systematization of the judicial network for judges at all levels of courts and for all types of courts determines 636 judicial positions and remains constant during the period 2016-2019, for which the data are analyzed.
This is stated in the Report on the Progress of North Macedonia towards the EU for 2021:
At the end of 2020, there were 493 judges (23 per 100,000 inhabitants) of whom 61% were women judges, as well as 187 prosecutors (nine per 100,000 inhabitants), of whom 55% were women. Compared to 2019, there is a slight decrease in the number of judges and prosecutors in 2020. What remains an essential issue is the provision of an adequate staffing needs assessment, especially in the public prosecutor’s office, based on the timely implementation of the adopted human resource strategies for the courts and the Public Prosecutor’s Office.
Many judges but little money for the judiciary
This report also states that:
According to the report by the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ), the implemented budget of the justice system for 2020 is 40 million Euros, or 19.5 Euros per capita, which is less than the average amount for the Western Balkans of 37.8 Euros.
According to the EU Justice scoreboard for 2021, Figure 29 shows the amounts allocated by countries for the judiciary. Thus, in the region, according to the money allocated in the judiciary, Slovenia leads with 100 Euros per capita, Bulgaria with around 60 Euros, and Croatia with around 50. Luxembourg spends the most 230 Euros, followed by Germany with 150 Euros per capita.
The budget of the justice system (budget for courts, services in the public prosecutor’s office and legal aid) has been reduced by 8.3 percent from 2019. This creates serious problems in the implementation of reforms, especially the digitalization of the courts.
You cannot oblige individuals, at time of digitalization, to bring you in hard copy some certificates from the Cadastre or you as a Court, not to have the obligation to go directly to the information centers of the Cadastre and make appropriate decisions. You make the individuals go to the Cadastre, so they respond you cannot do that, you cannot ask on your own initiative…
The court should do that, the court is obliged to act operatively, and that operability is not enabled. In that direction, the work of the Judiciary, the Prosecutor’s Office, the Police and all bodies related to cases should be very seriously organized, Caca Nikolovska says.
The digitalisation of the judiciary has long borne fruit in Estonia.
The Judicial Information System (CIS) is a modern information management system for Estonian courts. It enables registration of court cases, hearings and judgments, automatic allocation of cases to judges, publication of judgments on the official website and collection of metadata. In Estonia, for example, lawyers cannot postpone court cases indefinitely. This is because they communicate with the court exclusively through the e-files into which all the necessary documents for the case led by a lawyer are sent. The storage of those documents in this file has an expiration date after which all documents are deleted and the case is closed. That is why the lawyers must take all necessary actions in time regarding the case they represent, says Opetčeska.
The lack of information tools and the low level of implementation of the Digital Agenda in the judiciary are also noted in the EU Report on North Macedonia for 2021.
The implementation of the IT strategy in the judiciary is still mainly funded by donors. Initial considerations for the digitalization of all 34 courts will require the hiring of additional IT staff, which is a challenging task due to the non-competitive pay offered for such public sector jobs, including career advancement are still ongoing, the report notes.