I want an effective, modern and fast judiciary that uses all modern aids and technological capabilities. This is a way to expedite the justice system, making it effective and make full use of the potentials available to us.
„We cannot work now the same way we did 10 years ago if we want an efficient, modern and fast judiciary,“ says Justice Minister, Dražen Bošnjaković, whose ministry has been implementing numerous technological innovations and contemporary tools, and adds: „We have achieved a lot in this segment. However, changes do not happen overnight, they take time. ”
- To what extent is the judiciary at the level that you, as the line minister, would want it to be?
We have merged municipal and misdemeanour courts and the main objectives of this newly created network of judicial bodies were to increase the efficiency of the work of the judicial bodies, to harmonize their workload, to shorten the duration of court proceedings, to reduce the number of unsolved cases and to ensure unified and full utilization of all human resources in the system.
By merging 24 municipal and 22 misdemeanour courts and increasing the number of towns with courts in order to bring justice closer to citizens, we have reduced the total number of courts from 46 to 34.
We have also bolstered the role of permanent services outside the court seat. The President of the Court is obliged to arrange for a hearing in permanent services outside the Court’s seat. Before, people had to come to the court seat, which created additional costs for them.
We will make the biggest step forward in expediting the proceedings when we digitize the judiciary. Last year, we fulfilled the prerequisites for e-filing feature to become fully functional at commercial courts, which means that electronic communication between judges, attorneys and forensic examiners was established. We are carrying out further digitization of the judiciary because I want it to be faster, better and more up-to-date; that is a paperless judiciary. When I was in Portugal, I was in a courtroom that had only microphones and screens; everything was recorded and stored electronically. Estonia is in a similar situation. I can say that we are on the right path with digitization.
We have also launched very important infrastructure projects. We are building an additional floor on the building that houses a court in Dubrovnik. In Split, after finding out that a part of the Municipal Court in Dračevac was inadequate, we decided to refurbish a part of the Standa building in the town centre for this purpose. In Zadar, where the court shared its building with the police, we decided that together we are going to refurbish another building that the police can use so that the court will remain in the existing building. In Šibenik, we will refurbish an attic, spanning 2,000 square meters. Also, we are building a new land registry in Zagreb. We are going to launch a tender soon and are currently drafting the documents pertaining to the refurbishment of the Justice Palace, the biggest municipal civil court. Furthermore, we are constructing a new building in Bjelovar where we signed a co-financing agreement with the local self-government.
- The process of harmonization with the EU Acquis is ongoing. Which direction is the harmonization taking?
During the accession process, we had to harmonize all our laws with the EU Acquis, but as the EU legislation is dynamic, we also harmonize our national legislation with the Acquis by incorporating their directives into our legislation.
For instance, we are aligning the Criminal Procedure Law with Directive 2016/1919 on legal aid for suspects and accused persons in criminal proceedings and for requested persons in European arrest warrant proceedings and the Juvenile Justice Law with Directive 2016/800 on procedural safeguards for children who are suspects or accused persons in criminal proceedings.
- Are you satisfied with the percentage of statues of limitations in court proceedings?
I’m unhappy even if we have one statute of limitation.
At the end of 2016, the share of statutes of limitations in criminal cases in relation to the number of criminal cases settled at municipal courts was 0.20%, and at county courts, it was 0.93%. At the end of 2018, the share of statutes of limitations at municipal courts was 0.23%, and at county courts 0.4%.
The percentage of statutes of limitations has been decreasing year-on-year. I will be satisfied only when we have no statutes of limitations in our courts.
- How much can modern technology speed up procedures and contribute to making better decisions?
Our goal is to have a paperless document. Last year, we fulfilled the prerequisites for e-filing feature to become fully functional at commercial courts, which means that electronic communication between judges, attorneys and forensic examiners was established. Some people have already started using this, some haven’t. However, the Civil Procedure Law now makes it mandatory to use this feature and thus creates the conditions for e-filing first at municipal courts and then the others.
Whenever I meet with judges I ask them about their experiences with using the speech-to-text system. Their reactions are very good. We have secured funds for this purpose from the European Social Fund and last year, we distributed about 800 of speech-to-text units to courts and state attorneys. In some places the units are used in hearings, but they are mostly for writing judgments. These devices are somewhat personalized because they get accustomed to the way the user speaks and their memory is supplemented with legal terminology. Judges are very pleased with them because they expedite the writing of judgments which they now dictate into the unit. If we manage to meet the prerequisites for using these devices at hearings, that would save a lot of time because the current procedure is such that the hearing is heard out in its entirety, then a judge reproduces it, then a court reporter writes everything down and then there is a debate whether everything that was written down has been credibly recorded. With the use of the aforementioned units, none of this is needed.
- How much does digitization help judiciary to be more efficient, both in regard to their dealing with ordinary citizens and businesses? The legal system is one of the keys to attracting foreign investors.
We started implementing e-filing and electronic communication first at commercial courts because they are incredibly important for the economy.
But, there are also important changes to the Company Law that allow the establishment of a company, both single-member and limited liability companies, remotely, by filling out an electronic form. This is a major step forward under the auspices of the Start project which is implemented by the Ministry of Economy with the goal of facilitating a faster and simpler entry into the business world.
- Judicial pundits were quite focused on the public debate about the Distraint Law. What core changes does this law bring?
The purpose of the new Distraint Law is to make the enforcement process efficient, modern and economical while ensuring balanced protection of the debtor’s dignity, which will be achieved through the seven proposed measures.
One of the major changes is that courts are now in charge of enforcement proceedings, that is the court jurisdiction is now a rule, and notaries have become trustees serving the court in order for the proceedings to be done faster, thus making sure that the judgements regarding the enforcement proceedings are in accordance with the EU Acquis.
Enforcement proceedings are now modernized thanks to electronic communication between the bodies involved in the process and the use of prescribed forms, which at the same time, reduces and simplifies the procedure.
The level of the debtor protection is increased in such a way that after two unsuccessful attempts at serving the enforcement papers, they are delivered through the bulletin board and, at the same time, the debtor is sent notice to their ordinary mailbox and the personal e-citizen mailbox. This ensures that debtors are duly informed of the proceedings against them.
One of other novelties is that, before making the decision on the enforcement on the basis of a credible document, the notary public will summon the debtor and inform them about their obligations and the possibilities of negotiating with the creditor in order to avoid extra costs.
The important thing is that this reduces the costs of proceedings and eliminates the costs associated with obtaining a clause of validity because the clause is now issued automatically.
Also, there is a new rule that the debtor cannot be thrown out of the property in which they live during winter, i.e. from early November to early April, and that the limit on claims, which is subject to enforcement proceedings on the property in which the debtor resides that is not permitted, increases to the amount of HRK 40,000.
Also, the scope of income that is exempt from enforcement settlement includes Christmas bonuses, holiday allowance, per diems, social benefits and other income which employees receive in addition to basic wages.
- What are the Ministry’s most important projects in the upcoming period?
Our most important projects are further digitization because we are aiming for a paperless document, the establishment of the High Criminal Court and amendments to the Criminal Procedure Law, the Criminal Code and the Domestic Violence Law so that we can introduce stricter penalties and thus send a message to everyone.