Thursday, November 23, 2006

A step forward for judicial independence in Macedonia

More than 600 judges in Macedonia voted on Wednesday (November 15th) by secret ballot to elect eight members of the new Judicial Council. The council is taking over the election and dismissal of judges, something previously handled by MPs. It will also have the power to remove judges' immunity, and will review their performance.

With these changes, an important part of Macedonia's judicial reform has been launched. Two judges from the state Supreme Court -- Vasil Grcev and Bekir Iseni -- became members of the council. Also elected were Bojan Eftimov (Skopje 2 Basic Court), Ljubin Aleksievski (Ohrid Court) and Aleksandra Zafirovska (Tetovo Court), plus three judges from appellate courts -- Ruska Paparoska (Stip area), and Mirusa Elenovska and Veli Vedat (Skopje area).

"The foundations of a new judiciary system in Macedonia are being laid today," Minister of Justice Mihailo Manevski said. "I hope the judges who are first exercising this right to elect members of the council will choose the best candidates."

Preparations for constituting the council are expected in mid-December, he said.

"Judges elected to the Judicial Council have great responsibility because they are the members of a body that should ensure and guarantee independence and sovereignty of the judiciary system," said Rahilka Stojkovska, chairwoman of the commission in charge of the election. She confirmed that vote to select council members took place without incident or irregularities.

Three additional members of the council will now be chosen by parliament following an open competition, and two members proposed by the president will be elected by MPs. The minister of justice and president of the Supreme Court are also council members, bringing the total to 15.

The system of election is a dramatic change from past practice. Previously, members of the judicial council were elected by parliament, leading to recurring charges of partisanship.

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