Shame file: UK Foreign Office indulges Croatia’s judiciary reform into politics

To have one’s “day in court” is one of the major backbones of democracy. Courts of law have been and are seen as purveyors of ultimate justice, although often the justice purveyed is not seen as justice done by people at large. Nevertheless, we are brought up to respect and accept judgments delivered in courts of law.

Exiting from the communist Yugoslavia in early 1990’s Croatia needed to weed out practices in the appalling and biased judicial system inherited, if it wanted to become a true democracy.

Indeed, judicial reforms are one of the areas identified in the EU Accession Treaty for EU monitoring until July 2013 and Croatia must deliver if it’s to become a member nation of the EU.

At this point in time it cannot be said that there has been no progress in Croatia’s judiciary reforms, because good progress has been recognised and acknowledged; that’s one of the reasons why Croatia got to sign the EU Accession Treaty in December 2011.

According to the current data from Croatia’s Supreme Court and as published by HRSvijet portal, “there are thousands of court proceedings that have been open for at least a decade, and at the beginning of 2012 the Municipal courts in Croatia had 15,894 civil and 98 criminal unfinished proceedings that are more than ten years old.  At the same time, the District courts had 6,682 civil and 40 criminal cases, which means that there were (at the beginning of 2012) 22,714 unsolved court cases older than ten years”.

Croatia will undoubtedly in the very near future be served with a “final” appraisal of its judiciary reforms as July 2013 approaches. Surely, the above unacceptable situation with long-standing unsolved court cases cannot receive a passing mark or commendation.

So where is the progress EU applauded in the last half of 2012? Certainly, the citizens involved with the unsolved cases cannot be satisfied. The progress is obviously political, coupled with enactment of some legislation to EU standards. But these alone cannot be called full progress because legislative progress has not translated into the grassroots, where it counts: “a day in court”. And, spinning out of political issues has done judicial reforms no favours.

British Foreign Office boasts of success in being the major player in Croatia’s judicial reforms during the past years, according to HRSvijet portal.

In 2007 the UK-Croatia Strategic Partnership was signed and its main task was that the British Foreign Office professionals would act as “mentors” and work on Croatia’s judicial reforms. Undoubtedly funds for this mammoth task were and are substantial and lots of British professionals are on a good wicket. While professional services need to be paid for one can only hope that the professionals (UK Foreign Office) will also get to share the blame if Croatian judicial reforms don’t deliver what they’re supposed to.

UK Parliament Hansard from May 2008 records the answer to the question; what the UK/Croatia Strategic Partnership has achieved so far? Lord Malloch-Brown (Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office; Labour) replied:

The UK/Croatia strategic partnership is delivering in many key areas. Among other projects, the UK has supported the development of alternative dispute resolution in the Croatian courts helping to reduce case backlogs and speed citizens’ access to justice. There has been a wide programme of scholars visiting the UK, many with funds matched by host institutions or Croatian ministries. A UK anti-corruption adviser has provided legal and practical advice to the Ministry of Justice, towards meeting the requirements of the accession process…

Agencia consultancy in the UK, is the body registered on UK Government buying solutions, through which much of the professional work within the UK/Croatia Strategic Partnership is done. UK Foreign Office is therefore accountable for the work done to “help” Croatia achieving acceptable judicial reforms.

HRSvijet writes that the UK Foreign Office maintains that British pressure on “promoting independent judiciary and basic rights has helped Croatia to achieve a significant progress in judicial reforms. In line with this measures to increase tolerance in society towards reconciliation of ethnic groups have been introduced”, and that the UK Foreign Office is currently working on lifting the conscience and tutoring the Croatian police in “recognizing hate crimes”.

There’s no doubt that the British role and pressure in reforming Croatia’s judiciary has less to do with actual and practical reforms on the ground – in reducing court case backlogs by helping establish effective processes and procedures – than with politics. While ethnic group reconciliation is a goal well worth achieving I don’t think Britain can be any kind of a mentor and teacher for Croatia. After all, Britain’s ethnic bag is perhaps more mixed and “volatile” than Croatia’s.

Equating the victim with the aggressor in relation to the Croatia’s Homeland War has seen many pressures for ethnic reconciliation as “dictated” to Croatia by the European community and Britain had been a loud participant in this. The fact is that only the people directly involved with the process of reconciliation know best how to achieve such a goal and foreign interference in this is purely political and may often retard the process.

It is essential that the courts, the judiciary, not be drawn into direct political controversy or political fray around a nation. Mechanisms for ethnic group reconciliation when it comes to Croatia are a political controversy that must not be brought into judicial review. The only time ethnic intolerance can be addressed by the judiciary would be if and when an individual (or group) wrong is done and is brought before the courts. And at that time decisions must be made in line with the law – not politics. Judiciary is, after all, the administration of law and justice.While ethnic reconciliation can be subject to legislative processes, which are often coloured by politics, the actual administration of justice must be separated from legislative processes.

It is central to every democratic society, to its stability, and to its purpose, that the courts remain above and beyond any political fray.

Indeed the British court process has been carefully structured through the centuries. It has been designed to keep the judiciary outside the disputation of politics.

If the courts/judiciary become subject to political pressures then the court becomes the plaything of politics in a way that diminishes the court and respect for the courts.

Knowing this fully well one cannot but condemn the UK Foreign Office attempts to indulge Croatian judiciary into politics. It’s appalling.

Furthermore, I don’t think that Croatian police needs lessons in recognising hate crimes – one only needs to look at the Serbian aggression against Croatia in the early 1990’s to simply know that Croatia’s exposure to hate crimes had been overwhelming. They know it well and have behaved exceptionally well and honourably in the face of it.

It’s beyond me to understand why Croatia agreed to enter into the UK/Croatia Strategic Partnership in 2007 when there are multitudes of consultants around the world who could have done a better job in helping Croatia reform its judiciary, without bringing politics into it. But then again, Britain had voiced staunch opposition to Croatia becoming EU member during 2000’s, often halting Croatia’s EU accession negotiations. Most likely then, it  served some logic to “employ” Britain to “sort out” the mess in Croatia’s judiciary so Croatia could meet the standards sought?

Croatia, though, needs to recognise that national politics are not part of the judiciary as it operates in its courts. Courts must be independent of politics and the sooner Croatia puts its foot down on the British political indulgence in its judicial reforms, reduces the amount of funding reserved to pay foreign consultants for judicial review and uses that money to employ more staff in courts and gets down to the business of monitoring and clearing the case backlogs in courts the more democratic and judicially reformed it will be. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)


  1. Michael Silovic says:

    The Croatian Government has no business going to the Uk or the USA to learn about politics and legal justice. Both the USA and the Uk are corrupt and immoral countries with both systems so corrupt that that they are bankrupting their own countries and criminalizing everyone they can to manipulate and control the populous. Croatia needs no course from anyone in how to reform their system if they have educated people in our government. Being as suppressed as a people that we were we understand human rights and freedom as well as anyone else. I could think of other countries that have more ethics and morals then the two I mentioned that we can incorporate into our laws. Sadly Croatia is wanting into the EU so badly that we are compromising our own country to model the UK which is a cesspool like America is. We need to control British immigration into Croatia so that we do not allow the filth of their country to infiltrate ours.


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