By Drazen Remikovic
Although the Croatian government is seriously tackling corruption eradication, the plight of citizens is neglected at the judicial institutions. Thousands of lawsuits in Croatian courts, some pending for decades, indicate that legal institutions are lagging far behind.
Petar Batur, 82, from the coastal city of Zadar, has been involved in a court process for 38 years with his stepbrother, over the ownership and division of land and houses in Zadar. His son, Miro Batur, told SETimes that even after 38 years of trial at the Zadar Municipal Court there is no verdict in sight.
“This dispute is the only topic over which our family argues at lunch, for more than three decades. Eighteen judges tried this case. I feel like Joseph K from Kafka’s Process. Many people who worked on this case are no longer alive,” Miro Batur said.
In 2007, Peter and Miro Batur filed a request for protection of the right to trial within a reasonable time at the Zadar County Court. They received 2,700 euros in compensation from the state.
“This year nobody contacted us. We wrote to the justice minister, the president and prime minister. No one answered. If no one responds by July 1st, we will start a lawsuit at the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg,” Miro Batur said.
According to current official data, there are thousands of court cases that have been pending for at least a decade in Croatia.
“At the beginning of this year, the municipal courts in Croatia had 15,894 civil and 98 unsolved criminal cases older than ten years. At the same time, the county courts had 6,682 civil and 40 criminal cases, which means a total of 22,714 unsolved cases older than ten years,” Zdravko Stojanovic, general secretary of the Croatian Supreme Court told SETimes.
Most unresolved cases are pending at the Zagreb municipal court, which has 6,531 open cases that were filed before 2001.
“Of the total number of unsolved cases, 120 are from 1986 and earlier,” Zagreb Municipal Court Judge Maja Bilandzic told SETimes.
Judiciary Minister Orsat Miljenic said that nothing will dramatically change when Croatia enters in the EU.
“As far as unresolved cases go, entry to the EU will not change anything directly. The courts, therefore, will work on these cases extensively before we enter the EU and after,” Miljenic told Croatian web site T-Portal.
European Commission spokesman Mathew Newman told SETimes that the Commission will continue closely to monitor progress in Croatia.
“The country needs to continue its judicial reforms to assume fully the obligations of membership from the date of accession. As with all acceding countries, the establishment of a fully independent and efficient judiciary is of paramount importance,” Newman said, adding that the Commission is ready to support efforts to reform and further improve the Croatian judicial system.
He noted that substantial efforts have been made to reduce the large number of backloged cases, including criminal and civil procedure reforms, reinforcement of the Zagreb and Split municipal courts, the recent re-organisation of the justice ministry, and the adoption of the new Law on Enforcement and the Public Bailiff Act.
Vladimir Gredelj, a Zagreb lawyer, said that within the judicial reform the citizens are completely forgotten.
“Five large cases in which well-known political figures are involved and which media cover, have been closed. Then you have thousands of cases of ordinary citizens who spend years waiting for the verdict. I personally, as a lawyer, have several marathon cases that are ongoing 15 or 20 years,” Gredelj told SETimes.
He said that such a legal status quo is unheard of in some European courts, adding that one of the solutions could be to introduce a deadline for case resolution.
“The judge must resolve the case by the deadline or suffer the sanctions. We have good laws but implementation is poor. A trial that lasts 30 years is a disgrace to the entire judiciary of the country,” Gredelj said.