Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Macedonian judiciary plagued by backlogs: Council of Europe rights commissioner

Council of Europe (COE) Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg released his report on the status of human rights in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) on Friday, praising ongoing efforts by the FYROM government to improve human rights, but also highlighting shortfalls in the judiciary, law enforcement, and the penitentiary system. Hammarberg wrote:

The country’s judiciary was frequently described by both national and international stakeholders as weak and inefficient, with widespread perceptions of political influence and corruption...

A main problem remains the backlog of over one million cases. In 2007, the trend shifted. The improved implementation of the judicial reform strategy coupled with other measures tackling the inefficiency of the judiciary resulted in an increase of solved cases by 8% in the first half of 20079. The Minister of Justice informed the Commissioner that the backlog of cases has decreased. However, lengthy administrative and judicial proceedings remain a problem and constitute the bulk of cases brought before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). The Government is addressing this problem with a series of legislative and organisational measures, such as the adoption of the Law on Civil Proceedings limiting the courts’ ‘investigative role’ in civil proceedings and the parties’ possibilities to delay the procedures. A (domestic) legal remedy against lengthy proceedings has been introduced...

These reforms are important steps to diminish political influence in the appointment of judges and to ensure an independent and efficient judicial system. However, public confidence in the judiciary remains very low. Several international organisations and NGOs have reported on widespread and repetitive postponements of hearings, low quality of judicial decisions and poor standard of court facilities without separate waiting rooms for witnesses and victims, and sometimes even resulting in in camera hearings because of lack of space. The Commissioner is of the opinion that more efforts need to be invested to enable effective follow through of the judicial reform process and to consolidate the improvements provided for in reform legislation. Such measures should include continuing legal education for legal professionals including judges and other legal court staff, as well as training on improving case management and handling. More resources need to be invested in court buildings and equipment.

The Commissioner also found that "police violence remains a problem," and recommended the creation of a more representative police force which would include more women and minorities.

Hammarberg's report reiterated his concern for the rights and status of the Roma ethnic minority across Europe. In July, he urged Italy to change policies which he said marginalize the Roma, and he described seeing harsh conditions in Roma camps and hearing accounts of police mistreating the Roma people. He said that in addition to the harm caused by the policies themselves, openly anti-Roma governmental statements reinforced existing xenophobic sentiment.

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