Transparency and Openness of the Judiciary - research by Partners Serbia
Partners Serbia conducted research about the state of transparency of courts and prosecutor's offices. The research was performed from August 2021 to July 2022 and consisted of three thematic units:
- Proactive transparency and communication of judicial authorities through websites,
- Reactive transparency (the practice of judicial authorities when it comes to FOI requests),
- Co-operation between judicial authorities and the media.
Results of the research show that there is no uniform approach in the communication of courts and prosecutor offices, whether it is information available on the websites of these institutions, responding to FOI requests, or direct communication and co-operation between courts and prosecutors with the media. This research has also shown that communication, whether oral or written, depends mostly on individuals who are in charge of communicating with the public within the courts and prosecutor’s offices.
Based on the monitoring of the websites of courts and prosecutor’s offices, a major discrepancy was observed in the number, type and quality of information available on the sites. Most of the courts and prosecutor's offices in the sample do not publish news of their work, even when it comes to cases of high public interest. Also, a search of the sites showed that there is no information about planned or held press conferences, indicating that there is no culture of proactive communication about investigations and court proceedings for which there is increased public and media interest.
When it comes to answering to FOI requests, this research has shown that transparency of courts and prosecutor's offices declines if the subject of requests is information that is of greater interest of media and public and potentially involves public office representatives.
Most courts and prosecutor offices provided statistics information but rejected the requests in the part concerning the delivery of copies of the indictments. Based on the response of the courts and prosecutor’s offices, it can also be concluded that there is no unique practice of responding to identical requests for information.
In terms of co-operation between the judiciary and the media based on information collected at consultative meetings with judicial representatives and journalists, the research pointed out some of the main problems and challenges:
- During the meetings, media representatives noted that the success of obtaining information and co-operation depends mostly on individuals in charge of communicating with the media and responding to requests for free access to information of public importance.
- Representatives of media and media associations also agreed that there is a selectiveness in the treatment of media by courts and prosecutors, and that the institutions are more closed if the requested information is of increased public interest. They also noted that there is a difference in communication between higher and municipal courts and prosecutor offices.
Particularly significant is the problem of the lack of accountability and actual sanctions for institutions that are silent and non-transparent. In practice, there are no sanctions for court presidents or spokespeople in cases where they do not respond to a reporter's query, or for not publishing news on websites. Therefore, the lack of real accountability allows these institutions to continue with the practice of close doors.
The entire research is presented in the publication "Analysis of the State of Transparency and Openness of Judicial Bodies" and is available on the website of Partners Serbia: https://www.partners-serbia.org//public/news/The_Analysis_of_the_State_of_Transparency_and_Openness_of_the_Judiciary.pdf
A summary of the research together with the recommendations can be found here: https://www.partners-serbia.org//public/news/Transparency_of_the_Judiciary-_Summary_and_recomendations.pdf
This publication was funded by the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. The opinions, findings, and conclusions stated herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the United State Department of State.