Roundtable: Constitutional and Judicial Protection of Marginalized Groups

Leskovac Round Table

The Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights YUCOM and the Coalition for Equality STEP organized a round table on the protection of marginalized groups with special emphasis on constitutional and judicial protection in the City Hall of Leskovac on Wednesday, September 25th. The speakers at the round table were YUCOM lawyer Kristina Todorović, professor of law at the Faculty of Law, University of Belgrade, Dr. Stevan Lilić, Prof. Dr. Predrag Dimitrijević from the Law University in Niš, and his assistant Dejan Vučetić. The moderator was the director of YUCOM, Milan Antonijević. In attendance were representatives of the judiciary, local NGOs, and the media.

Milan Antonijević, in his opening remarks, greeted everyone present and expressed his views about the dimensions and problems of discrimination and equality in our country. He emphasized the contribution and goals of the regional coalition of which YUCOM is a part, the Coalition of Equality STEP.

Likewise, he pointed out the reasons why NGO and professional requests to change the Constitution, especially on the questions of the protection of minority groups, have been increasing. He then presented the internet portal mojustav.rs which YUCOM launched with the aim of democratizing this debate and bringing the Constitution closer to citizens. Kristina Todorović, in her presentation, expressed her wish to focus on the research on the reach of the Anti-Discrimination Law and its application in practice, given that the prohibition of discrimination, in this an all subsidiary laws as well as the Constitution, is well known. This research was focused on questioning the behaviour of all participants: citizens, lawyers, and judges. YUCOM sent requests for access to information of public benefit to all basic courts in Serbia so that it could determine how many of these cases are even started and where any eventual problems lie.

From the coming into force of the Anti-Discrimination Law, 190 cases were filed, which is a relatively small number compared to the number of civil proceedings which were begun. A quarter of cases reached a final decision, while a fifth were not processed, not by a decision based on merits. Even if the Law foresees urgency in its proceedings, they are not treated as urgent cases. The general conclusion is that discrimination goes unrecognized, which was also demonstrated in 2012 research looking at discrimination in schools, and in the disbelief marginalized groups face from courts.

Judge Nikola Pešić from The Higher Court in Leskovac stated that, in Serbia, there is a general reluctance to change, and the question of discrimination is such a novelty. He said that in many cases, the legally necessitated urgency in the proceedings, which is not respected, has to do with the area of workplace disputes, family law, and the like. Delays in proceedings should not occur, he emphasized, and this ought to be understood as part of the fight against discrimination.

Prof. Stevan Lilić stated that we were witness to a phenomenon in the judiciary, which he named as a sociopsychological problem. That is, one the one hand there are laws which are disobeyed, while on the other hand some laws are strictly upheld even when it isn’t necessary and when they yield bad results. The source of this situation is partly the structural problem that the Ministry of Law is simultaneously also responsible for state administration. Therefore, we ought to uphold certain flexible solutions, such as those enacted in Montenegro in relation to the overloaded justice system.  They engaged experts from NGOs to, in certain cases, to file and prepare a case, while the courts simply decide on a ruling. This solution saves time and hastens proceedings.

Aleksandra Zdravković, representing the NGO Committee for Human Rights, joined the debate and stated that she advocates the Constitutional change, primarily with the goal of raising accountability and enacting judicial reform. Mr. Pešić also added his view on the problem of overloaded courts, while Prof.  Lilić returned to the fact that this problem is also present in the Constitutional Court, due to the introduction of a constitutional complaint. He said that this sort of problem might be solved by the creation of a First Instance court or a special wing of the court. He acquainted the participants with the Croatian solution to a similar problem, that is, that constitutional complaints are brought before the Court of Appeal.

Prof. Lilić pointed out that there are very strong indicators that the result of inspecting the quality of the constitutional text might be negative, given that the starting assumptions, inoperative institutions, the nonexistence of good legal bases for solving conflicts of interest, bad rulings in relation to the question of legislative initiatives, etc., are very unfavourable. The professor reminded us of the fact that Serbia, in 2006, drafted its 14th Constitution in history. This demonstrates constitutional, social, and security instability. He believes that, as long as some  ‘miraculous’ political will exists, there are also a thousand ways to change all that should be changed in the constitution. Among other things, it is a question of pro tempore constitutional decisions. In his words, he was personally an advocate of a softer approach to constitutional change, given that a more aggressive one would incite greater resistance and thus decrease the chances of reaching consensus.

Professor Predrag Dimitrijević said that it is a fact that constitutional changes are above all political questions, on which is necessary to work on permanently, along with creating a broad democratic initiative, which ought to be led by experts.

Ivan Grujić, representing the NGO National Parliament from Leskovac, stated that he believed that the most adequate answer to the question of constitutional change was promoting national initiatives. Milan Antonijević replied that national initiatives are made senseless by the ignorant attitudes of institutions, referring as an example to such an attitude of the Serbian Parliament in 2007.

Milan Antonijević finally thanked all those present on their participation in the round table and stated that the conclusions to which the exchange of ideas and practical experiences at the round table would be the subject of a serious analysis in the context of protecting marginalized groups and upcoming constitutional and legal changes.

 

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