With EU investment Serbian justice gets more efficient, laying the groundwork for higher public confidence and improved business conditions

Serbia’s justice system needed an upgrade for its outdated legislation and case management facilities to bring it up to more efficient EU strandards. Now the country’s reformed courts have buildings and infrastructure that meet its needs.

The Palace of Justice and the Court Building in Kataniceva Street in Belgrade have been fully reconstructed after 40 years of neglect. The European Investment Bank financed this crucial project with a €41 million loan, complemented by a €2.9 million grant for technical documentation and supervision of works provided by the Western Balkans Investment Framework. The financing helps create conditions for judicial authorities and administrators that improves their work and reduces operational costs.

“We are a lot quicker in successfully serving our customers, who now spend less time waiting at the counters,” says Snezana Sokolovic, an employee at the Prosecutor’s Building. “It’s spot on.”

An efficient and accessible judiciary is a pillar of civil society. It also provides confidence for the development of private sector and foreign investments. A legal system that protects rights and executes contract terms is essential to entrepreneurs, who need a stable environment for innovation, job creation and competitiveness.

“Improvement of judicial efficiency affects other sectors, especially the business and investment climate,” says Slavica Jelaca, Assistant Minister of Justice. “Their efficiency impacts the country’s ranking on the World Bank’s Doing Business List.” The World Bank list ranks economies based on the ease of doing business, regulation and setting up operations. Serbia is currently ranked 44 out of 190 on the list.

Old courtrooms revamped with EU investment in Serbian justice

The Serbian Ministry of Justice and the EU commitment to support the reinforcement of the rule of law in the Western Balkans got these projects rolling. The Palace of Justice and Court Building are furnished with renovated facilities that improve efficiency for judges and prosecutors. All courtrooms have been fitted with multimedia and surveillance equipment, while offices have been improved with advanced information and communication systems.

“Spatial improvement significantly facilitates work organisation,” says Jelaca, “especially the proximity of investigating rooms and courtrooms for preliminary procedures. The new security measures reduce the number of police guards escorting the accused.” There’s also increased efficiency from security equipment and cameras that eliminate the need for extra personnel at busy times.

Easier access to justice for all citizens

There are benefits for over 1 000 employees working in these institutions, and for citizens, too. Piles of unsolved case files covered in dust have been processed and converted to digital cases, thanks to the installation of a reliable electricity supply. This has made it possible to record the court proceedings virtually.  

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“The EU supports and cooperates with judicial authorities in Serbia and, together with the Supreme Court of Serbia, we have recently managed to reduce the backlog of 1.2 million cases,” says Sem Fabrizi, EU Ambassador to Serbia. “But efficiency is only part of the effort. Independence and accountability are crucial in ensuring justice for all.”

Judicial reform is part of the EU integration process and, therefore, one of the priorities of Serbia’s Ministry of Justice. Serbia applied for EU membership in 2009 and is currently going through the process of accession.

Boosting efficiency by 60%

According to Jelaca, the more advanced working conditions allow cases to be carried out in a larger number of courtrooms in parallel, resulting in shorter time for processing lawsuits. “Estimates show that proper working conditions can increase court efficiency up to 60%,” she says. “This contributes to faster and more efficient resolution of cases.”

For the European Investment Bank, it’s important to see the impact of this investment on the Serbian public.

“We hope that the modernization of the Palace of Justice will contribute to rebuilding trust in the justice system among citizens of Serbia,” says Dubravka Negre, head of the EU bank’s regional office for the Western Balkans. “Introducing digital technologies to administrative management will boost the efficiency of bureaucracy and make justice available more quickly.”

“This project has become a symbol of judicial reform for Serbia,” she adds, “and we will continue providing support until the full compliance with the EU recommendations is accomplished.”