Serbia Justice Functional Review

Internal Performance Assessment > Human Resource Management

d. Training

i. Capacity of the Judicial Academy to Meet Training Needs

  1. The Judicial Academy has not yet fully realized its potential to serve as the hub for judicial learning and play an integral role in the transformation of the judiciary. The Law of Judicial Academy envisages that the Academy will provide several types of training including initial, continuing, and specialized training. To date, the Academy focused on providing initial judge and prosecutor training and internal functioning, while continuing training has been conducted sporadically. Efforts are underway to upgrade the capacity of the Judicial Academy to provide both initial and continuing in-service training.
  2. The Academy’s focus has been imbalanced in favor of initial training, whereas continuing training could have a greater impact on judicial performance. It is debatable whether initial training is needed in the current environment. As discussed above, Serbia already has an excessive number of judges who are permanently appointed, and the existing cadre appears to have a balanced age structure, including a sizeable younger cohort.803 Caseloads per judge and workloads per judge are lower than EU averages and are falling significantly across Serbian courts, particularly across Basic Courts where most newly judges get appointed.804 There exists no methodology for determining the number of judges in Serbia, but if one were to be developed it would likely recommend a number of judges far lower than the existing number. As a result, the appointment of even more judges in the medium term would be superfluous. Thus large-scale investments to develop a pipeline of future judges would represent very poor value for money, as funds would be diverted from other areas of the sector which exhibit much greater need in a tight fiscal environment, including investments in the capacity of existing judges. Investing too heavily in initial training is likely to only raise expectations among trainees of future appointments, which the sector cannot afford, and should not, meet. In light of these factors, future cohorts of initial trainees could be far smaller. The sector could also consider a freeze on initial training until the medium term when the issues above have been resolved.805
  3. The Serbian judiciary should invest in a large-scale continuing training program as part of a strategic effort to lift the capacity of its existing resources. Continuing training could be delivered more intensely for all categories of permanent personnel, including judges, prosecutors, assistants, and court staff. By investing in the permanent resources the system already has, the Academy could be at the forefront of the Serbian judiciary’s transformation. A shift in focus would be required for the Academy to remain a key player in the transformation, although this renewed focus would still align with its recent Judicial Academy Strategy.
  4. The overall funding for the Academy grew significantly but could be more targeted towards the delivery of training. Funds allocated by the state budget for the operation of the Judicial Academy grew more than 600 percent from 29.4 million RSD in 2010 to 175.3 million in 2013. To date, the majority of those funds supported the salaries of the 88 initial trainees who receive 70 percent of the salary of a Basic Court judge, fees to 75 mentors,806 and 35 regularly budgeted employees.807 Funding growth occurred with the introduction of initial training cadres in 2011 and continued each year as additional cadres of trainees were added.808
  5. Significant shifts in donor funding impact the Academy’s ability to plan and offer training over the years. Donor funding represented 15 percent of the total Academy funding809 and a significant share of the funding for continuing education. Donor funding for continuing education reached a high of 20.6 million RSD in 2012, and dropped to 11.8 million in 2013, representing a 43 percent decline in one year.

ii. Training Needs Assessment

  1. As a priority, the Academy should conduct a systematic training needs assessment to elevate the capacity of the judicial system. Trainings most likely to impact court efficiency or quality in light of changing legal and organizational arrangements should be prioritized. While much of the donor-funded continuing education has been focused on critical issues facing the judiciary,810 much more needs to be covered – both in depth and breadth – to lift the capacity of existing judges. The judiciary itself should identify these needs. International support may be useful, particularly in areas such as EU law and best practice court management, but the process should not be donor driven. Should a comprehensive needs assessment be developed; the Academy would be well placed to source significant multi-year donor contributions.
  2. The Academy and the Councils need to work together to conduct this systematic needs assessment. The HJC’s Strategic Plan for 2011-13 identifies as a first-year priority the creation of a commission to assess training needs of judges and staff, and propose topics and target groups for judges and court staff. In addition, the NJRS Action Plan811 identifies as a priority the improvement of the continuous training for judges and prosecutors under the umbrella of the Judicial Academy. This has not yet occurred and would assist in the training needs assessment. In a positive move, the automated tracking of continuous training needs for individual judges and staff will be included in the personnel tracking system under development by the HJC.
  3. Serbia is eligible to have an observer at the European Judicial Training Network812 but has not pursued this option. Participation in the network would help the judiciary perform its own assessment.

iii. Initial Training

  1. The Councils are responsible for determining the number of initial training enrollees at the Academy based on the projected number of judicial vacancies in the year in which trainees are to graduate. From 2010 to 2012, a total of 109 individuals entered the Academy, for an average of 36 people per year. Entrants in 2013 totaled 24. Documentation about how the number was determined was not available to the Functional Review team.813
  2. In comparison to the previous process of selecting new judges and prosecutors, the selection of trainees at the Judicial Academy is relatively transparent and far superior. Nonetheless, the selection process continues to be criticized for being open to manipulation and influence-trading. For example, several stakeholders note that the heavy weight (50 percent) given to the oral portion of the entrance examination introduces considerable subjectivity and discretion to members of the Examination Commission.814 In response, the Academy points to the fact that the oral exam process is the same format used by the law faculties, and the exams are recorded and are open to the public.
  3. The training program of the Academy relies heavily on mentors located in the courts and PPOs. Most of the training received by initial trainees is in the form of on-the-job training in the courts or PPOs. Each trainee is assigned to a variety of mentors practicing as judges and prosecutors in different areas of the law. There is some supplemental classroom training in the form of monthly seminars in topics such as communication skills, conducting proceedings, and ethical standards.
  4. Several stakeholders expressed some concerns about the rigor of the initial training program. Some Academy mentors suggested that the quality of work done by trainees was on average lower than that done by their comparable judicial assistants. Further, all of the attendees in the initial year of the Judicial Academy passed the final examination, which raised questions as to the rigor of that examination in particular.815 For the equivalent of 70 percent of a Basic Court judge’s salary,816 trainees should perhaps be expected to meet more onerous standards akin to that of the highest European Academies. A more rigorous process might also build confidence within the judiciary that only the highest quality of trainees graduate from the Academy.

iv. Continuing Training

  1. Judges and prosecutors are not obligated to attend continuing training except for few specific topics,817 and there is little incentive for them to do so.818 Courses in substantive areas of law that comprise the bulk of the courts’ caseload are not regularly offered, such as basic courses in civil litigation, family, or labor law. There is also no dedicated training for managers, such as court presidents and heads of departments, whose capacity and skills are pivotal to the success of courts and PPOs. Instead, continuing education centers on a selection of topics of immediate interest such changes in the new CPC.
  2. The Academy website does not provide information on upcoming continuing trainings and there is no process for individuals to independently apply to attend courses.819 Judicial assistants commented that CPC training was announced two days before the training commenced, making it difficult for them to request attendance.
  3. The continuing education courses offered through the Academy vary in assessed quality. Despite extensive training funded by the OSCE and the US Department of Justice (DOJ) in the new CPC,820 many prosecutors report they have not received any or only inadequate training about the CPC. A significant, second round of training for courts and PPOs using IPA 2012 funds was not expected to begin until at least June 2014, many months after the implementation of the new CPC in October, 2013.
  4. Most of the continuing training’s content and form is developed by the donors who fund it. The form of that initial training in the new CPC was received with mixed feedback. Recipients noted appreciation for the training but reported that it was too short, and was inconsistent since not all trainers were equally skillful. These are all aspects in which the Academy could assist donors in providing the highest quality training possible.
  5. Participants and donors report that the Academy’s role in guiding the form and content of training varies, with the Academy only sometimes providing leadership. As an example, in collaboration with the Appellate Misdemeanor Court, the JRGA project played the lead role821 in developing and delivering extensive training for Misdemeanor judges and staff in substantive issues, and ICT822 and training for authorized petitioners in the Misdemeanor Courts (e.g., traffic police).
  6. The Serbian judiciary should invest in an extensive program of continuing training. By investing in the permanent resources the system already has, the Academy could be at the forefront of the transformation. Training could be provided in every issue relevant to a modern judiciary, in accordance with an exemplary curriculum. Participation in the training could be mandatory in basic capacities, and could be encouraged in specialized topics, evaluations and promotions. The development of a continuing training program should be the top priority of the Program Council in collaboration with relevant stakeholders.
  7. Peer-to-peer learning could also be further fostered. Both the NJRS and IPA 2012 call for the development of a national network of peers for sitting judges. In a positive move, and though this effort has yet to begin, additional peer-to-peer training may be offered to individual judges at their court sites as an effective form of on-the-job training. Institutional linkages with European judiciaries could be intensified to provide greater peer-to-peer exchange. Routine colloquia could be convened to discuss specific issues, share experiences, and adopt best fit practices from abroad. Such efforts may further boost capacity, morale, and performance.
  8. Although not the only area of need, training needs specific to CPC implementation are acute. Prosecutors and Deputy Prosecutors report they need more training in case processing including how to effectively manage cases, ensure efficient proceedings, and the procedural steps to be followed under deferred prosecution and plea bargaining arrangements. Deputy Prosecutors also highlight the need for practical training on investigative techniques and the use of case management systems. Joint training sessions between judges, prosecutors, and police would also be useful to clarify roles and responsibilities and promote coordination. Basic orientation training before the implementation of the CPC should now be supplemented by more advanced training that applies lessons from the first six-months of experience.
  9. Continuing education could be improved by taking greater advantage of the Academy’s sizeable staff and knowledge of adult learning techniques. The Academy’s core competency should be in structuring the form of curricula (e.g., the balance of provision of legal knowledge and practical exercises) the length of training, the qualifications of trainers, the form of ‘bench books’ or manuals that trainees can utilize after the course is complete, and conduct and analyze training evaluations.
  10. Other judicial branch entities should also play a role in continuing education where it will add value. For example, participation by the SCC or Constitutional Court in human rights training could center the training and alleviate the general feeling of judges that they remain unfamiliar with ECHR precepts. This is despite over 2,300 training days provided in the topic between 2011 and 2013 by the CoE, and 684 training days of specific training in ECHR and Serbia Constitutional Court cases.823

v. Training for Assistants and Court Staff

  1. Skill-based training programs for Judicial and Prosecution Assistants have not been adopted. Article 50 of the Law on the Judicial Academy requires the Program Council to do so in cooperation with Court Presidents and Prosecutors. While assistants may participate in subject-specific training at the Academy, a rigorous, skill-based training program has not been developed to prepare them for their current duties. Representing nearly 2,000 professional employees, this resource is critical to court performance. A large injection of training for this group could help harness their potential to contribute to the transformation of the judiciary. Assistants should be issued appropriate certifications to reflect and value their important role in the judiciary.
  2. Training in management for Court Managers, in concert with that for Court Presidents, was well-developed, effectively delivered, and was supplemented by reference materials that could be used subsequent to the training. Trainers produced resource materials to supplement the curricula, including a training manual and a trainers’ guide. In October 2010, the SPP transferred these curricula to the Academy so that it can continue to offer the training.
    Similarly, training for other court staff has been extremely limited. In 2011-2012, the Academy and the SPP developed and delivered a five-day orientation program for Court Managers.824 Some training on AVP was provided when the system was rolled out in 2010, but not since. Some training to misdemeanor staff was provided with the support of USAID. Beyond that, no other training of administrative court staff has taken place. Most administrative staff interviewed by the Functional Review team had undergone no training since their appointment, and like for the continuing training of judges, prosecutors and their assistants, a large injection of training for court staff could elevate the capacity, morale, and performance of the judiciary across the board.