We are aware that due to this difficult situation which befell our country, at this moment there is justifiably little room for the discussion on other topics, and that the priority question is how to provide help to those in need as efficiently as possible and to remedy the consequences of the flood. However, providing that the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia has continued their regular sessions discussing the scheduled agenda items, we believe it to be appropriate that we send you this Open Letter.
We are addressing you regarding the amendments to the series of laws which entered parliamentary procedure as matters of urgency, without public debate or consultations with professional community, on 8th May 2014.
Bearing in mind the importance and influence that the proposed measures will have on the citizens of Serbia, we demand that the laws are urgently withdrawn from procedure and returned to the competent ministry for the purpose of organizing public debate.
The laws in question represent the foundation for Serbian justice system, so we express our particular concern regarding the fact that some of the proposed measures may lead to legal insecurity and inequality among citizens before the law, thus jeopardizing basic right of each citizen to accessible legal protection and further erode already undermined trust in legal system, legal state and rule of law in Serbia.
We stress that some of the proposed solutions further distance the state and its citizens from generally accepted principles and standards of international law, especially when it comes to vulnerable groups of poor, legally uneducated and victims of serious crimes. Bearing in mind strong pro-European orientation and clear political and legal discourse aimed at harmonizing principles and measures with the European Union and combating corruption, we underline that non-transparency of the process, as well as the proposed measures themselves are in opposition with the standards which Serbian state representatives advocate, at least declaratively.
We further emphasize that the process of drafting amendments for some of the laws actually included representatives of judiciary participating in the work groups which were established in different ministries of the Serbian Government, but that the proposed provisions, however, fail to reflect the conclusions of these bodies.
The right of citizens to accessibility of legal protection will be seriously jeopardized by the proposed amendments to the Civil Procedure Code envisaged by Article 85 which significantly limits one’s right to choose his/her representative before law, narrowing down one’s choice exclusively to the members of one’s immediate family, attorneys and employees in the local legal assistance offices who have passed bar exam.
In the current situation, where Serbia still lacks a regulated system of free legal assistance, accessibility of justice and especially accessibility of judiciary protection will be significantly hindered for the most vulnerable groups of citizens. All those without financial means to pay for a lawyer, the number of which is bound to increase with the financial crisis in the country, will not be adequately represented by the members of their immediate family, as unfamiliar with the Civil Procedure Code as the party they represent. It is also questionable whether the state has secured a sufficient number of the employees in the local legal aid services, who are educated and trained to represent citizens in court proceedings, or whether all the municipalities in Serbia have these services (according to the latest data, only 64 out of 164 municipalities in Serbia have legal assistance services).
As another example, we emphasize the proposed measures in the Amendments to Criminal Procedure Code (hereinafter CPC) pertaining to the Institute of discretionary right of the prosecutor, i.e. the authority of the prosecutor to give an alternative to the suspect: continuation of criminal prosecution or payment for humanitarian purposes (the so called “prosecutor’s opportunity”) in Article 283 paragraph 1 item 2 of the CPC.
Generally speaking, the idea of the proposers of the amendments to the CPC, to centralize the resources collected through prosecutor’s opportunity might seem justified, for it would provide for the clear responsibility of the state, both with regards to the process of distribution and to the achieved purpose with the resources spent. However, the concrete solutions proposed not only fail to promote the achievement of the identified purpose, but they might even present an obstacle to its achievement. Imprecision and non-transparency of the provisions paves the way to corruptive practices and misuse of funds.
The proposed amendments: a. provide too wide a definition for the persons who may become beneficiaries, defined as “and other physical persons”, b. envisage implementation of public competition, for which the criteria for distribution of the funds, as well as composition of the committee which announces the competition and its mode of operation are subsequently determined by the Minister competent for judiciary by an individual act, and c. envisage that the decision on distribution of the funds after the implemented competition is adopted by the Government, without establishing criteria which are clear and known in advance.
We believe that the provisions pertaining to public competition, establishment of the committee and criteria of competition for awarding the funds collected through prosecutor’s opportunity, does not belong to the matter of Criminal Code Procedure, but rather to a separate law or bylaw, which would regulate all the relevant aspects of collection, control and spending of the funds collected through prosecutor’s opportunity in a comprehensive and transparent way.
Therefore we once again demand that the proposed amendments to the laws be withdrawn from parliamentary procedure; that the public and professional community become informed about and be consulted pertaining to the proposed solutions; and that the measures which correspond to the requirements of efficiency, transparency and professionalism be subsequently formulated, with the purpose to support the process of necessary reforms and development of the legal protection of citizens.
This initiative is supported by the following organizations:
Women’s Centre, Užice
The Voice of Difference
Reconstruction – the Women’s Fund
Committee of Lawyers for Human Rights YUCOM
Helsinki Committee for Human Rights
Humanitarian Law Centre
SOS Women’s Centre, Novi Sad
United Branch Trade Unions “Independence”
Independent Women’s Centre, Dimitrovgrad
Association of Single Parents and Single Parent Families “Together”
ALTERO – Association for Personal Training, Education, Development and Strengthening
Women of the South
Centre for Girls, Užice
NGO The Art of Living in Serbia
Vranje Human Rights Committee
Centre for Girls, Niš
Victimology Society of Serbia
DamaD Cultural Centre, Novi Pazar
Association of Women Sandglass
Centre for Support of Women, Kikinda
Women’s Rights Centre in Vršac
Novi Sad Humanitarian Centre
International Assistance Network IAN
… Out of the circle – Vojvodina
Local Board of the Women’s Forum of the Democratic Party in Pančevo
Citizens’ Association “The World of Words”, Velika Plana
Belgrade Centre for Human Rights
SOS for Women and Children Victims of Violence – Vlasotince
CHRIS Network of Human Rights Committees
Members of the Coalition “prEUgovor” (together with ASTRA and Autonomous Female Centre);
– Belgrade Centre for Security Policy
– CINS – Centre for Investigative Journalism
– Transparency Serbia
– Group 484
– CPES – Centre for the Applied European Studies
 According to the data of the Ministry of Justice’s website, http://www.mpravde.gov.rs/sekcija/53/radne-verzije-propisa.php, public debate process was not open for the following laws: Draft Law on the Amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code, Draft Law on the Amendments to the Civil Procedure Code and Draft Law on the Amendments to the Law on Enforcement and Security. This is not in line with the Government’s Code of Procedure which stipulates that public debate needs to be open when it comes to the amendments to laws which introduce significant innovations or pertain to the issues of public interest. On the other hand, public debate was open in October and November 2013 on working version, but not the drafts, of the Law on the Attorney General, Law on Enforcement of Criminal Sanctions, Law on Mediation in Disputes and Law on Contentious Procedure.