Serbia Justice Functional Review

External Performance Assessment > Efficiency in the Delivery of Justice Services

e. Gender Impacts of Inefficiencies in the Court System

  1. The Review investigated whether the court system works less efficiently for women, and possibly for other groups. The review found that there are some differences in the length of proceedings in criminal cases of women defendants.310 There are also perceived differences in the frequency of canceled, unproductive, and efficient hearings, but again, only in criminal cases.311 Other indicators revealed no gender differences.312 unproductive, and efficient hearings, but again, only in criminal cases.311 Other indicators revealed no gender differences.312
  2. However, inefficiencies arise in particular types of cases where women are more likely to be parties, such as divorce, custody, and domestic violence. Process Maps highlight that cases of divorce and domestic violence can easily become ‘stuck’ and take longer than the time limits set by law.313 Lack of specialized case processing, combined with opportunities for parties to engage in procedural abuse for tactical advantage, leave parties – often women – at a disadvantage in the courts.
  3. For example, the Process Map for a divorce case shows that uncontested divorce proceedings proceed relatively smoothly and within the timeframes set by the law, but child custody and maintenance are often severely delayed. Cases often become ‘stuck’ when the local Social Welfare Center takes a long time before giving its expert opinion (i.e., up to 6 months). Delays vary; for instance, the Center reportedly takes longer in Kragujevac than in Belgrade. Opportunities to improve the coordination and cooperation between the courts and Social Welfare Centers could be explored. Obstruction by one of the parties is also routinely problematic in these cases.
  4. In focus group discussions, women highlighted the stress that delays, repeated hearings, and errors cause in custody litigation. For example, one woman noted in a single custody case that ‘as a result of an inefficient court, my children were forced to go through five different mental institutions where they were tested’. Another woman stated that:

    ‘a judge in Pančevo was on my [custody] case for one year. We had a hearing every month, and only after a year he told me that he wasn’t competent for my case, so I had to go to another judge. And what about my costs for coming to the court, absence from work, what about that?’

  5. The maps and accompanying testimonies suggest that targeted measures to improve efficiency in family disputes could better ensure the equal treatment of women and men before Serbian courts. These cases are often complex even in high performing European judiciaries. However, lessons from elsewhere in Europe abound including the use of specialized courts, streamlined procedures, and targeted initiatives to ensure priority treatment of children in case processing.