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News 28 Jul 17

Macedonia to Scrap Disputed Judicial Council

Minister says Macedonia will soon abolish a controversial council that was widely seen as a tool used by the former government to pressurise judges.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Macedonia's Justice Minister, Bilen Saljiji [left] and Deputy PM in charge of European Integration, Bujar Osmani [right]

Macedonia will soon scrap the controversial Council for Disciplinary Liability and Evaluation of Judges – which was introduced in 2015 under the former ruling VMRO DPMNE party – the new Justice Minister, Bilen Saljiji, said.

This will be done by October in order "to ease the pressure on judges", the minister said, adding that this formed part of the new government's plan to implement EU-sought reforms.

Along with the procedure in procedure to axe chief Public Prosecutor Marko Zvrlevski, the move is seen as a first step towards removing political influence over the judiciary.

A judge who wished to stay anonymous – but who claimed he had been a victim of a political setup by the Council - told Deutsche Welle he hoped it would be scrapped as soon as possible.

However, the head of the Council for Disciplinary Liability, retired lawyer Saso Pocevski, has defended the body that he leads, calling it "an example for professionalism and independence" in the judiciary.

"Probably this is one of the main reasons behind the demands for the swift scrapping of this body," Pocevski said.

Composed of nine retired judges, lawyers, prosecutors and university professors, the law establishing it was disputed from the start, after it was passed in a shortened procedure and without due public debate in 2015.

Its main task was to initiate disciplinary proceedings against judges, a duty that fell previously under the jurisdiction of the Judicial Council. After the new council is abolished, that duty will return to the Judicial Council.

Many legal experts, including the then opposition and now governing Social Democrats, claimed the new body was installed to increase political pressure on judges. They claimed that the whole affair was masterminded by former Justice Minister Mihajlo Manevski.

According to some wiretapped conversations released that year, he directed much of the political pressure on the judiciary during VMRO DPMNE's ten years in power. Manevski himself has denied such claims, however.
In December 2015, the European Commission for Democracy through Law, known as the Venice Commission, questioned the need for this council, adding that many regulations in the law concerning its tasks and formation were vague, and could serve to intimidate judges.

This "opens the door to abusive interpretations", which is "very dangerous to judicial independence", the commission noted in its written opinion.

Macedonia's new government, led by Zoran Zaev, assumed office in May after more than two years of crisis in the country.

It recently promoted a set of reforms that were agreed with the European Commission in a bid to revive the country's stalled path towards EU accession. Judicial reforms, sought by Brussels are one of the priorities in the government plan.

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