Serbia Justice Functional Review

Internal Performance Assessment > Infrastructure Management

a. Analysis of Existing Infrastructure Stock

i. Number of Judicial Facilities

  1. At the outset, it should be noted that the precise number of facilities under the control of the Serbian judiciary is unknown. It is a common practice that several courts are located in the same building, while other courts are located across multiple buildings. The MOJ estimates that there are approximately 408 facilities, but there is no definitive list. Similarly, it is unknown who actually owns many of the building. This greatly inhibits planning. Part of the problem is that data are fragmented. Information pertaining to the capital investments in courts and PPOs is collected by the MOJ, while information on maintenance needs is collected by the HJC and the SPC. As a result, analysis is not conducted on judicial infrastructure. Planning for capital investments and infrastructure improvements is done without any systematic approach.
‘Each state should allocate adequate resources, facilities and equipment to the courts to enable them to function in accordance with the standards laid down in Article 6 of the Convention and to enable judges to work efficiently’ Council of Europe, Recommendation No. R (2010) 12 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on judges: independence, efficiency and responsibilities941
  1. The Serbian judicial network has undergone a series of changes, but the facilities have remained largely the same. The judicial network that had dated from the 1970s was transformed in 2010 with the closing of a number of courts and PPOs. To mitigate the challenges caused by the closing of Basic Courts, the HJC and the MOJ established Court Units (or satellite courthouses), many of which were the same buildings that had been courts before. Almost every Basic Court counted several court units. For example, the Basic Court in Novi Sad in its previous formation had as many as 12 Court Units. Court Units were managed by the Basic Court President, and many carried out the same functions as a Basic Court with the exception of criminal cases that could not be tried in these units, and others operated at limited business hours.
  2. The judicial network was restructured again in 2014. The major change was the closing of court units and their re-conversion to Basic Courts, raising the latter’s number from 34 to 66. Also, in response to changes initiated by the new CPC, the number of PPOs increased from 34 to 58. However, it is important to note that this change has not resulted in an increase in the number of judicial facilities. The new courts and PPOs are located in the same buildings where the court units were located; essentially re-converting Court Units back to Basic Courts.
  3. The 2014 new judicial network aligns Serbia with the EU average in the number of courts per 100,000 inhabitants. According to the CEPEJ, Serbia had 1.9 first instance courts and 2.7 court locations per 100,000 inhabitants in 2008, well above the Eastern and Central European average of 1.7 courts per 100,000 inhabitants. The 2010 re-networking decreased the number of courts to 0.8 for first instance courts and 1.9 court locations per 100,000 inhabitants. The new judicial map of 2014 brings Serbia close to the European average with 2.2 court locations per 100,000 inhabitants as shown in Figure 149.

ii. Physical Condition of Judicial Facilities

  1. Assuming the figure of 408 facilities is correct, the judiciary operates in 318,058 m2 of office space. As Table 43 below indicates, the Basic Courts occupy the largest area, followed by Higher Courts and Misdemeanor Courts, as would be expected.
  1. There are 1,701 courtrooms and 1,897 other judicial offices in the Serbian courts. As illustrated in Table 44, it is clear that court infrastructure suffers from an insufficient number of courtrooms. In some courts, there are difficulties with the scheduling of hearings due to the scarcity of courtrooms and inefficiency in scheduling. The Higher Court in Kragujevac is the most concerning, with six judges per courtroom. Also worrisome are the Higher Courts in Pancevo, Novi Pazar, Uzice, and Saba which have five judges per courtroom. The Basic Court in Novi Pazar faces the same issues. Misdemeanor Courts face serious challenges as almost half of courts have no courtrooms and hearings take place in judges’ chambers. This situation affects service delivery in terms of efficiency and quality of service. Several stakeholders reported to the Functional Review team that lack of courtrooms is a common reason for delays or rescheduling of hearings. In Kragujevac, for example, stakeholders reported at least one criminal hearing is rescheduled each day due to lack of courtroom space. Nonetheless, Courts appear to use courtrooms for hearings only in the morning. The tighter scheduling of hearings, including consideration of afternoon sessions, would enable courts to maximize their use of these scarce resources.944
  1. Prosecutors will need more office space to work effectively under the new CPC. Based on the information collected from the SPC,946 a large number of PPOs do not have the space to carry out interviews and investigative hearings, nor do many have sufficient security for that purpose. This poses a significant problem for the successful implementation of the prosecutor-led investigations, as prosecutors do not have basic means to fulfill their designated functions. This would likely have a flow-on effect, reducing efficiency and quality of service along the criminal justice chain.
  1. The lack of courtrooms and interview rooms affects service delivery. In the Multi-Stakeholder Justice Survey, prosecutors increasingly report that poor working conditions and poor infrastructure are two reasons for a decrease in quality of court services. In 2013, 15 percent of prosecutors cited working conditions as a reason for decreased quality, an increase from 10 percent in 2009, and 14 percent cited poor infrastructure, an increase from 8 percent in 2009. There have been similar reports from judges, although the number remained steady over the same period. This is an indication that the constraints for the prosecution are more severe (see Figure 150)
  1. In most cases, courts and PPOs are housed in facilities not suitable for judicial institutions. Courts commonly occupy buildings that are classified as a cultural heritage, such as the Basic and Higher Courts in Zrenjanin, and the Appellate and Higher Courts in Kragujevac. This makes it more challenging to maintain these buildings, and also harder to upgrade the courts for modern ICT and other features not provided by the original designs. Moreover, several of these buildings were not designed to serve as courts and do not provide a functional space for the judicial system to operate. Due to their listing as cultural heritage sites, these buildings cannot be adjusted to fit modern needs.

Box 31: Inadequate Workspace in a Heritage Building: an Example from the Kragujevac Basic Court.

Originally, the building was built in 1904 and served as a municipality. It is currently home to the Kragujevac Basic, Higher, and Appellate Courts. The building is categorized as a cultural heritage site and is under the state’s protection. Over the years, the city of Kragujevac invested in the renovation of the building’s facade and roof.

The main challenges with the maintenance of Kragujevac Basic Court building are the following:
  • The building structure is highly rigid, leaving no flexibility to enlarge or re-arrange the layout of the interior premises.
  • Windows are in dire need of renovation. However, the arched wooden windows must be renovated in the same way as the original windows. They have to be custom-made and are therefore very expensive.
  • Courtrooms that are approximately 20m2 are used for trials, with limited security and poor working conditions.
  • Such courtrooms are shared by two Basic Court judges, and serve as both their chamber and as a courtroom. While one judge is holding a trial, the other one works in another corner of the room. Files are located in the room, with implications for security and confidentiality. Stakeholders report that this practice of judges sharing courtrooms is common across Basic, Higher and Misdemeanor courts in Serbia.

Box 32: Urgent Infrastructure Needs: an Example from Sremska Mitrovica

The Sremska Mitrovica Courthouse is home to the Higher Public PPOs, the Basic PPOs, the Misdemeanor Court, the Commercial Court, and the Higher and Basic Courts. The building has a large flat roof area with poorly installed plumbing, dampness, and poor insulation. In addition, the roof sewage installation runs through the courtrooms and a judge’s chamber.

During heavy rainfalls, the poor conditions of the roof and drainage system often cause flooding in the judges’ chambers and courtrooms, and they pose a serious threat to archives (both paper files and electronic files).

  1. The judicial infrastructure is generally in poor condition and urgent repairs are needed in a number of courts and PPOs. Based on the information from the list of requested repairs for judicial facilities provided by the MOJ, Table 45 below shows that more than 40 percent of all judicial facilities are in need of total renovation of very basic elements, such as toilets and archives. Several courts, however, report to the Functional Review that requests for upgrades are futile, so they no longer submit them to the MOJ. As a result, the figures below may be under-reported.
  1. The poor state of electrical installations in the judicial facilities represents a major obstacle for additional investments in ICT infrastructure. This problem became evident with the introduction of AVP in 2010, when the MOJ reports that significant additional funds had to be set aside to fix issues related to electric installations in server rooms to enable the AVP rollout. Because of poor wiring, cooling equipment could not be installed and the hardware vendor was unwilling to extend the warranty for needed servers. Given that the situation is no better today than it was in 2010, the judiciary is not in a position to further invest in ICT unless these infrastructure challenges are effectively addressed. As a matter of priority, the MOJ should make a rapid assessment of the electric installations in all judicial facilities, focusing on the type of improvements needed to enable further investments in ICT infrastructure.

Box 33: Scale of Outstanding Capital Investment Needs – An Example from Kragujevac

The court building in Kragujevac, in which the Basic, Higher and the Appellate Courts are co-located, once caught fire caused by inadequate electrical wiring. Fortunately, the fire was quickly contained. Given the prohibitive cost of replacing the wiring, the court employees take turns in using air conditioning in their offices. The building is overcrowded. Some Basic Court Judges do not have offices and use courtrooms instead, even when court is in session, to prepare for hearings. As of early 2014, the MOJ was arranging the relocation of the Appellate Court to more suitable premises.

Box 34: Poor working conditions in the Leskovac Misdemeanor Court.

Due to the lack of office space in the Leskovac Misdemeanor Court, the judges’ chambers are also used as courtrooms. Two judges share the same chamber, making the work conditions extremely difficult. In addition, as highlighted in the pictures below, the registry in the court is overcrowded and in need of renovation. Some investments in the IT and e-filing systems would greatly improve these working conditions, but this will not be possible until a complete overhaul of the electric installations takes place.

  1. In 2013, the JRGA finalized a comprehensive court facilities inventory for the Misdemeanor Courts in Serbia.949 The inventory found that less than 5 percent of Misdemeanor Court buildings are in adequate condition. This assessment included 47 buildings where the courts are located (four locations of the Higher Misdemeanor Courts and 43 Misdemeanor Courts). Information on the buildings’ physical conditions and related infrastructure, floor plans, staffing requirements, information on building ownership, photographs, and recommendations for resolving the most urgent issues were presented in the assessment. A tentative estimate of costs for the required renovations was also given for each court in order to provide the MOJ and the courts with an overall picture of the scale of investment needed. Based on the JRGA’s assessment, Figure 151 below shows that the 17 Misdemeanor Courts should either to be relocated or urgently renovated.

iii. Age Structure and Ownership of Judicial Facilities

  1. The judicial facilities were built over the last 200 years, and the age of the structures developed by the MOJ is divided into four categories: a) before 1900s, b) 1901-1950, c) 1951-1980, and d) 1980 – present. Figure 153 and Figure 152 show that the majority of the Basic and Misdemeanor Courts were built in the 1951-1980 period, and are thus 30 to 60 years old. (However, the Basic Courts and the MOJ were not able to establish a date of construction of approximately 20 percent of the facilities, and these are presumably all ageing facilities). The age structure is not so much of a concern as the dire lack of maintenance of these ageing buildings. Most, if not all, of these buildings have received very little maintenance over the last 15 years, possibly longer. As a result, the existing stock of infrastructure across the judiciary is generally in poor condition.
  1. There is no single database that can provide information on the ownership of the facilities where judicial institutions are housed. Again, this information is fragmented between the MOJ, the HJC, and the SPC, and is only partially available. According to the MOJ, and as presented in figure 154, the ownership of court buildings is mixed and unregulated. The difference between court buildings owned by Republic of Serbia (10 percent), other Ministries (2 percent), and other Institutions (2 percent) is not clear. The MOJ, in coordination with the HJC and the SPC, should employ the methodology already developed by JRGA to create a database of ownership of all courts and PPOs. Once this is created, the MOJ should facilitate the transfer of ownership from other institutions to the MOJ, courts, and PPOs as needed.
  1. As Figure 155 and Figure 156 show, a similar issue exists with establishing the ownership of buildings which contain PPOs and Misdemeanor Courts. It is important to note that PPOs are not owned by the RPPO or the SPC, making it almost impossible for the SPC to fund any major rehabilitation of the PPOs.