On 25 February 2021, the final conference of the project “For Justice – Monitoring the Implementation of the Strategy for Judicial Sector Reform 2020-2021” was held, implemented by the Blueprint Group for Judicial Reform, financially supported by the Foundation Open Society – Macedonia. The event was held online, in accordance with the recommendations for the protection of public health due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The event was dedicated to the challenges posed by the pandemic and the state of emergency in North Macedonia for state and public authorities, with particular reference to the impact of emergency working conditions on the judiciary, judicial bodies and the implementation of the Judicial Reform Strategy. The event was attended by judges, expert court associates, representatives of the Ministry of Justice, the academic community, the NGO sector, experts in the field and the media.
The conference was opened by Dance Danilovska Bajdevska, Program Director at the Foundation Open Society – Macedonia, who confirmed that one of the priorities of the Foundation remains the support of civil society organizations and government bodies in consistent implementation of priorities arising from the reform of the justice sector, especially in these times that pose numerous challenges.
Danilovska Bajdevska pointed out that the unequal approach to the adoption of laws arising from the Strategy for Judicial Reform opens room for doubt in the quality of the legal solutions. This way of working, and especially with actions, i.e. not taking actions that were the reason for the unavailability of accused former officials, risks stagnation instead of promoting the rule of law, and the state moves away from restoring citizens’ trust in the justice system and promotion of human rights protection.
The Minister of Justice of the RNM, Mr Bojan Maricic, also addressed the participants and made a brief overview of the achieved and current activities of the Strategy. Maricic explained that the reform of the judicial sector continues to take place with the primary goal of restoring citizens’ trust in the judiciary.
Mr Nikola Jovanovski, Program Manager at the Center for Legal Research and Analysis as the implementers of the current project in the Blueprint Group thanked for the trust and cooperation with other partners and supporters and of course the courts and judicial authorities during this turbulent year full of challenges.
The legal aspects of the state of emergency and the impact on the Macedonian judiciary
In the first panel, Judge Margarita Caca Nikolovska, President of the IHR and former Judge in the ECtHR, Supreme Judge Xhemali Saiti, President of the Association of Judges of RNM, Goce Kocevski, Project Manager in MZMP, Iva Conevska, Project manager in EPI and Vildan Drpjanin project manager in MHK addressed the attendants. The speakers spoke about already established examples of standards and principles of application of the procedure of state authorities in emergency situations, with special reference to certain developments that still do not have a concrete answer in the context of North Macedonia, such as a (non) confirmation of the decisions for declaring a state of emergency by the legislature, the derogation from the European Convention on Human Rights and the content and the duration of the ordinances with legal force continuously carried by the technical government during the period of emergency. The panelists also discussed what was actually happening in the courts during the state of emergency, noting that transparency in the transmission of information was the most important link in the courts’ actions in emergency situations. The panelists also referred to the decree on cutting the salaries of judges during the state of emergency, which was criticized in the European Judicial Network and could be understood as a direct interference of the executive in the independence of the judiciary, as a third and equal government in the country. In this part were presented the initial conclusions of the Blueprint Group for the actions of the state bodies last year. The panelists discussed the vulnerable situation the country found itself in – without a mandate from the legislature, with which the entire burden of controlling the state of emergency “fell” on the Constitutional Court. A small part of the decrees with legal force was not related to the state of emergency at all, so the government started acting as a legislator. In the end, the activities of the courts were presented, which, faced a situation that is not provided for in the laws on courts and the Rules of Procedure. The courts found ways to continue their work in the state of emergency. The courts faced the challenge of ensuring a fair and equitable trial in the new dynamics of court proceedings, so during this period, the first online trial in North Macedonia was held. However, standardizing the procedures for the courts to act in extraordinary conditions and providing the basic technical conditions for their work, remain the primary tasks for enabling the judicial activity in a future state of emergency.
How the COVID-19 pandemic affected the implementation of the Judicial Sector Reform Strategy 2017 – 2022
The second panel was dedicated to the implementation of the Judicial Sector Reform Strategy in 2020. In this part, prof. Ana Pavlovska Daneva, PhD, Mr. Zharko Hadzi-Zafirov from the CIPA, Mr. Nikola Prokopenko, State Adviser at the Ministry of Justice and Natali Petrovska, Director of the Coalition All for Fair Trials, took part. The panel presented the initial findings on the implementation of the Strategy in practice and pointed out that the normative activity of the Strategy is not a problematic aspect. However, it is worrying that part of the foundations of the current Strategy have not yet started to be implemented, such as the provision of new buildings for the administrative courts, which has been delayed since 2019, the physical separation of the courts from the public prosecutor’s offices in the municipalities where these are located in the same building in order to rule out the possible connection between the court and the parties in the procedure, the reorganization of the court network that has not started at all and the dispersion of the Academy for Judges and Public Prosecutors in other cities in the country. The panelists also referred to a question that has been present in the public for some time, i.e. the fact that for almost 10 years now the legal obligation to allocate the minimum 0.8% of GDP to the judiciary has not been fulfilled, according to the Law on Court Budget. In this part were presented the activities of the Ministry of Justice in the last year, which resulted in the initial draft of the new Criminal Code, the establishment of a working group for the Rules of Procedure, the Law on Judicial Service and the establishment of a working group to adopt the Law on military state and state of emergency. The general conclusion remains that delays in implementation are inevitable and somewhat justified, but despite the normative ones, the essential changes required by the strategy for real progress in the field of justice should be implemented.
—————————————————25 February 2021