On 24 June 2019, the MDTF-JSS team organized a dissemination event to present the key findings and recommendations emanating from the draft report titled Small Claims: Where Does Serbia Stand? The draft report contains a comparative analysis of the small claims procedures of several EU countries and compares them to the procedure in Serbia, in order to assess the effectiveness of the latter and provide actionable recommendations to optimize them. The aim of the event was to present the findings and recommendations of the draft report to key stakeholders in Serbia’s justice system and solicit their feedback.
The event took place in the building of the Supreme Court of Cassation (SCC) and was opened by Mr. Predrag Trifunovic, SCC Judge, Mr. Čedomir Backovic, assistant minister and Mr. Srdjan Svircev from the World Bank. The event brought together a wide range of legal professionals; including representatives of the judiciary, the executive, the academia, the Bar Association and development partners in Serbia.
The comparative analysis explored the procedure for resolving small claims across a number of areas including: the thresholds for defining a claim as a small value one, the rules on filing a small value claim, evidence, preparation of the case, hearings, timelines, content of the judgment, grounds for appeal, appellate procedure, legal representation, fees and mediation. The analysis found that in many areas the procedure in Serbia was in line with good international practices. However, there were also a few areas where optimization was possible, including the scope of the procedure (especially the threshold), the rules on the preparatory phase of the case, the rules on conducting hearings and the system of court fees. These topics generated a lively discussion, centered around the efficiency of the procedure and its relationship to the right to a fair trial.
The participants recognized that simplifications to procedural rules needed to be introduced with caution so as to not adversely affect parties’ right to a fair trial. Consequently, participants were interested in the European Court of Human Rights’ (ECtHR) caselaw on such matters. The decision of ECtHR in the case Ponka v. Estonia was discussed with a view to assessing situations that are acceptable for the court to decide a case without holding a hearing at all. The ECtHR’s decision in Kreuz v. Poland was also raised in light of evaluating current practice in Serbian courts to proceed with the case whether or not the court fee had been paid, in order to avoid violating the right to access to justice. According to ECtHR’s opinion, as long as there are appropriate mechanisms in place to ensure that the amount of the fee is proportionate to the financial situation of the parties (e.g. effective legal aid and/or fee waiver), the discontinuation of a civil procedure in the event of non-payment of the fee does not constitute a denial of justice.
The lack of reliable information on the real volume of small value cases due to the current organization of statistical information, which does not allow for the collection of such data was also discussed. An overwhelming perception, which could not be confirmed due to lack of data, was that there were numerous cases of minimal value that take up significant resources in the court system. Participants also agreed that since a party’s right to appear before the court could not be limited, even when they claim minimal amounts, the system needs to use other mechanisms, possibly court fees, to address the issue of frivolous litigation.
Following the dissemination event, the World Bank team will finalize report and fine tune recommendations. The next steps will be agreed with the key judicial stakeholders.