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)




The Queen Hath Spoken: control immigration from Croatia, don’t come asking UK for money to help save struggling EU nations

Wednesday 9 May, Queen Elizabeth II gave her speech in the UK parliament, setting out the government’s legislative plans for the next year.

The Queen hath spoken, but she didn’t give much detail away as the announced Bills are still in draft stages and haven’t been published yet.

While there’s a long list of Bills referred to in the Queen’s speech (particularly in the area of tackling Britain’s ailing  economy) the ones that draw my attention here are the “European Union  (Approval of Treaty Amendment Decision) Bill” and the “Croatia Accession Bill”.

The first Bill seeks to end the UK euro bailout exposure. The Bill basically seeks to approve the creation of the European Stability Mechanism, a permanent means to support Eurozone countries in trouble, but exempts the UK from a new European bailout agreement between Eurozone countries.

The Croatia Accession Bill is about Parliamentary approval for Croatia to join the EU and allows for immigration to the UK from the new member to be controlled.

The Croatia Accession Bill seems set to crush much of the enthusiasm of young Croatians who voted “Yes” in December 2011 at Croatian accession to EU referendum, convinced that doors of the whole of European Union will be opened for them to seek and obtain employment, residency etc. with ease. Not that there would be a stampede of young intellectuals and professionals, or workers in general, out of Croatia after July 2013, when Croatia is expected to become a full EU member, but at least the relative freedom of movement for livelihood purposes was/is expected.

While it’s not yet clear what the “control of immigration” into UK from Croatia really means, as the full text of the Bill is not yet published, there’s an annoying feeling tingling in the air that “euroenthusiasts” in Croatia are in for a rude shock. They can thank the new Kukuriku (Cock-a-doodle-doo) coalition government for enticing them into the “Yes to EU” vote – for, employment opportunities in EU was one of the positive points the foreign minister Vesna Pusic had printed on the government’s referendum campaign brochures.

It has been clear for many years that the UK would like to reap the benefits from EU membership (e.g. ease of trade, ease of investments in EU countries, increasing its wealth though buying-up assets in EU countries, having a say in EU legislative process …), but not share too many responsibilities if things go wrong. Much hasn’t changed in the way the UK does business abroad since the days of its imperialistic and colonizing days of “glory”, it seems.

The Queen’s announcement of legislation to confirm Croatia’s accession the EU did not include the bill to commit the UK to give 0.7% of national income in overseas aid. It has been said that the UK government expects to meet this foreign aid target by next year, but has opted not to mandate itself to do it every year in law.

So it looks like UK is leading the way in the “every man for himself” battleground when times get tough. This may not be a bad approach to national survival, in fact it’s welcome in many respects but the problem is that it’s always the UK loud bells that ring – alarmingly and condemnably – when some other country’s leaders are pursuing nationalistic approaches to protecting their nation.

Croatia should learn from this and start seriously limiting the acquisition of Croatia’s assets by foreign countries, even by those that are members of the EU. All those in Croatia who had in the past twenty years been inclined to follow the hypocrisy in foreign powerful bells that labelled Franjo Tudjman a nationalist should now take pause and rethink their position for – Croatia First! Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps.(Syd)

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