Serbia Justice Functional Review

Internal Performance Assessment > Human Resource Management

Chapter Summary

  1. A strategic approach to human resources (HR) management is not evident in the Serbian judiciary. To enable the judiciary to transform in line with EU practice, the Serbian judiciary requires a renewed focus on performance, productivity and investment in human potential.
  2. Serbia has one of the highest ratios of judges-to-population and a very high ratio of staff-to-judges across Europe. A lack of planning and constraints in resource deployment explain in part the suboptimal system performance. Key problems with human resources management are as follows:
    1. Judges, prosecutors and staff are added to prior staffing levels in an ad hoc manner, rather than based on objective demand or caseloads;732
    2. Staffing complements are set without reference to an overall resource rationalization plan;
    3. There is in effect no national judiciary or prosecution service. Appointments and hiring are localized, resulting in groups of human resources in each court or PPO. Once appointed, judges, prosecutors, and civil service staff cannot be moved without their consent from low to high demand courts, or to other entities that have absorbed functions formerly performed in the courts. Few mechanisms exist to incentivize that consent.
    4. In addition to the large existing staff, large numbers of temporary staff and volunteers create a ‘shadow workforce’. Selection is reportedly based on patronage, and their performance goes largely unmonitored. Their net contribution is likely to be marginal, and their presence often distracts more experienced staff from core functions, and turnover is high, resulting in a loss of corporate memory. In all, the shadow workforce destabilizes court operations, impedes integrated resource planning, and inhibits longer term efficiency.
    5. There is insufficient funding to support other expenditures (such as infrastructure or ICT), which would better support people to perform at a higher standard. Unnecessary rigidities in resource allocation within the sector prevent managers from making positive trade-offs between personnel and other expenditures (such as applying savings from personnel vacancies to cover training or operating costs).
  3. Setting the appropriate number and properly allocating judges, prosecutors, and staff between courts and PPOs in line with caseload will improve the efficiency of the judiciary and provide more equitable public access. The demand/supply balance already suggests overstaffing, and no judicial appointments should be made nor should vacancies be filled until the number of judges falls by attrition. Furthermore, a freeze should be put in place in most areas of staffing and a staff reduction plan be developed, focusing on low-skilled ancillary staff and registry staff that previously performed verification services. The ‘shadow workforce’ of temporary staff and volunteers should be reduced. The human resources already in the system need to be used more effectively, and investments should be made in their training. Meanwhile, the Serbian judiciary requires new mechanisms for determining the appropriate level of court staffing, taking into consideration workloads, performance, and the goals of transformation. Consolidating the responsibility for the number and deployment of judges, prosecutors, and non-judge/prosecutor staff should greatly enhance resource planning. The Councils should immediately build their capacities to carry out this critical task.
  4. The allocation of funding between positions, personnel needs, and other inputs (e.g., technology) needs a significant shift within the overall budget envelope. The system needs fewer low-level ancillary staff and should abolish lay judges who drain resources and do not contribute to service delivery. In its place, the system should invest in and foster specialized and analytic roles, such as judicial and prosecutorial assistants, advisors, court managers, court secretaries, planners, IT administrators, and statisticians. Investments in ICT, infrastructure and process re-engineering are needed to enable better skilled people to work to higher standards.
  5. In particular, judicial and prosecutorial assistants make an important contribution to sector performance, and they deserve special attention in HR reforms. Currently, they do not receive any formal training, and there are few mechanisms in place for their objective evaluation or promotion. Yet they provide critical support to judges and the court administration in processing cases. Many assistants aspire to work in their role only temporarily as a ‘stepping stone’ to becoming judges or prosecutors. This aspiration is unrealistic (and perhaps always was) in a system that already has an excess supply of judges, falling caseloads and shrinking mandates. Yet their skills and corporate memory are valuable to the sector. The judicial system should create an attractive and viable career path for high-performing assistants to advance to key managerial (non-judge) positions in the courts733 in a new system that values mid-level management. It should also provide training and re-skilling to enable these judicial assistants to align their aspirations with that of a modern judiciary.
  6. Progress is underway in developing a system for the evaluation and discipline of judges. Rules for the evaluation of judges and prosecutors were adopted in 2014 after much delay. Although these rules are arguably too lenient and vague, they provide a frame for measuring performance and could be strengthened over time. Further work is also needed to link evaluation to promotion and career progression. Incentives should be built into both systems to encourage judges and prosecutors to develop their skills through continuing training and to demonstrate a track record of performance. An education program with judges and prosecutors may be useful to encourage this kind of cultural change.
  7. There is an acute need for training and capacity building across the Serbian judiciary. The Judicial Academy has in the past been overly focused on the initial training of new judges, despite the system already having too many judges, falling caseloads and shrinking mandates. Looking forward, the Academy should focus more on continuing training and lead a large-scale capacity building initiative for judges, prosecutors, assistants and court staff alike. Training could cover all aspects relevant to the transformation to a modern European judiciary, based on a comprehensive training needs assessment.
  8. Overall, the judiciary needs clearer assignment of responsibility for human resources policy making, more sophisticated management, and better-defined systems for human resources than are currently in place. It is incumbent on the HJC and SPC to take the lead on most of these matters.