The (In)Dependent Judicial System in Kosovo

    Independence, accountability and impartiality are just some of the remaining struggles of the Kosovo´s judicial system. An effective judicial system is fundamental for the county to improve the life of its citizens and its path on the European integration process. Even though the government has taken important steps such as the judicial reform in 2013, the system remains weak and it is one of the most criticized areas in the Progress Reports of the European Commission for the last three years.

    The case backlog is one of the key concerns. At the end of 2012, the total number of cases pending before the Kosovo basic courts was over 218.740. These increased to over 235.000 cases in 2013, partly due to court reform, which led to the inclusion of minor offences cases in the statistics. 2013 was an important year for judicial system because of the legal reform. In January, a new court system was introduced and a new criminal code and criminal procedure code entered into force. This legal reform is believed to improve performance of the court and judicial system in general. In the same year there have been some positive changes regarding better access to justice, legal aid offices have been established in 11 municipalities. Kosovo also has a mobile legal aid clinic. In 2014 some important steps were taken by Kosovo authorities aiming improvement. The Judicial Council adopted a new strategy to reduce the backlog of cases. The Prosecutorial Council increased the number of positions for local prosecutors in the special prosecution office by three to a total of eighteen, of which twelve are filled. Four basic courts and the appeals court are now equipped with special rooms for protected witnesses but still progress on the safety and protection for judges, prosecutors, witnesses and court staff which faces threats and intimidation is limited. Judicial alternatives to the courts will influence for positive changes, there are now certified and licensed notaries also private enforcement agents. In addition, mediation centres are having a positive impact. The number of cases referred to mediation centers has increased considerably (699 in the period September 2013-March 2014, compared to 104 in the same period a year before). Public awareness of mediation and mediation centers needs to be improved.

    On the others side allegations of corrupt behavior in the judiciary continue. The limited independence and impartiality of the judiciary in practice is a serious impediment to strengthening the rule of law. Reports produced by UNDP and Transparency International have highlighted significant risks within the judiciary in Kosovo. According to UNDP´s Public Pulse survey, only between 16.7% and 17.7% of respondent were satisfied with the work of the courts and prosecution services. In another report from Transparency International, respondents believed that judiciary is significantly affected by corruption. Judiciary received a score of 4.1 out of 5 which is considered to be the highest level of perceived corruption.

    The weakness of the system is above all visible in the north of Kosovo. Full integration of the judicial system in Northern Kosovo still remains pending. The District Court based in northern Mitrovica is staffed only with 6 international judges and 2 international prosecutors from EULEX. The Serb community in the north does not accept local judges in the Court.

    Implementation of the legal reform and political will are key components to improve the judicial system in Kosovo. Reduction of the cases pending on the courts, an improved quality of performance, accountability-disciplinary sanctions for corruption behaviors, safety and protection for judges, prosecutors and witness are some of the concerns that need to be addressed from Kosovo authorities in order to offer a judicial system that does not fail its citizens.

    Author: Fitore Barjaktari