The independence of the Serbian judiciary is under attack from the political class. The recent outbursts by the Serbian president over the court ruling on tycoon Miroslav Miskovic’s court case illustrated the high levels of interference by the executive on the judiciary arm of the government. Judiciary experts, critics and international organizations have condemned this practice citing that it infringes on the independence of an already weak judiciary system.
The judiciary has been fighting for its independence for decades and experts believe that such statements made by the political class could roll back any gains that were made during that period.
Miroslav Miskovic Court Case
Miroslav Miskovic’s court case is one of the many court cases that started being pursued immediately after president Aleksandar Vucic ascended into power. Miskovic’s first inroads with the authorities came on December 12th, 2012 when he was arrested and charged for earning more than 30 million euros through illegal road companies.
Other charges were then brought up on the businessman and included; complicity in tax evasion, abuse of office and his engagement in organised crime. The latter sought to have the businessman face a 12-year prison sentence plus fines.
After 5 years in court, the court finally charged his son with tax evasion handing him a three and a half year sentence. It wasn’t long before they came for Miroslav for his role in his son’s tax evasion case. He was handed a five year prison sentence as well.
However, Miroslav challenged the ruling and another court verdict was made to send the tycoon for a retrial of the tax evasion charges. It was this decision that rattled politicians in Serbia who claimed that the courts were being complacent in the fight against ‘corrupt tycoons’.
More Political Interference On Court Cases
Political leaders in Serbia have been accused severally of interfering with on-going court cases in Serbia. Miroslav Miskovic’s case is not an isolated one. On September 16th President Aleksandar Vucic publicly commented on Zoran Marjanovic’s case even though the case was still on-going in the courts. His comments suggested that Zoran was indeed guilty and that the courts should not have sympathised with his case.
Serbian ministers and politicians have continued with this practice of highly criticising the work of courts and judges despite being admonished by a number of organizations including the European Union. The EU published a report indicating that the continued comments by the politicians on on-going court cases was a critical factor in calling the independence of the judiciary into question.
Not A First For Vucic
The Miroslav and Zoran cases were not the first for Vucic to comment on. In June 2014, Vucic publicly accused Dragosav Kosmajac of being a drug dealer. However, the police were not able to get enough proof to sustain these charges. He categorically stated that courts operate under the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise and pointed out the fact that police reports were not the only basis of accusation.
These public outbursts are increasingly impeding the work of both the police and the judiciary. Dragana Boljevic, President of the Association of Judges of Serbia, has continued to criticise this kind of interference on the work of the judiciary. He warned that publicly commenting on cases usually set a direction which dictated how politicians wanted the cases to end.
Cracks In A Stable Democracy
Another judge, Misa Majic, who sits in the Appeal Court also added to the dissenting voices of people opposed to the current situation in Serbia. He indicated that the executive largely dominates the judiciary and that for the judiciary to become independent there should be no interference from both arms on each other’s roles. He further indicated that one of the main postulates of a “stable democracy” is an independent judiciary.
Many people have continued to add their voices into the debate of whether or not the public spats by politicians regarding cases is the best way to go. However, the main decision of desisting from such public utterances rests on the politicians’ backs. Only time will tell as to whether Serbia’s executive will refrain from interfering with on-going court cases.
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