Coronavirus Pandemic Highlights Old Problems of Justice System

Lauren Simmonds

As Lucija Spiljak/Poslovni Dnevnik writes on the 17th of May, 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic, court hearings in Croatia were postponed and business meetings and consultations with clients within the scope of the provision of legal services were also cancelled. Attorneys and other officials in the field sought to hold meetings remotely and communicated with their clients by telephone and electronically.

This was explained in further detail by Kristijan Horvat, a lawyer who works with his colleagues in the Horvat & Zebec & Bajsic Bogovic law firm, in which four lawyers and five trainee lawyers work, along with the administrative staff.

As the courts are working at a reduced capacity due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and are as such only dealing with emergencies, the situation with the Croatian judiciary is following the trend of inactivity that the Croatian economy has been following itself. According to Horvat, parties’ questions mainly referred to the exercise of the right to the array of measures introduced the Croatian Government for the preservation of jobs, as well as to requests and advisory services related to the termination of employment contracts.

He added that claims for compensation owing to the violation of the right to a trial within a reasonable time are yet to come. Zagreb was also hit by a strong earthquake that damaged some of the court buildings back in March, to the extent that work or access to those buildings was rendered impossible.

Despite the numerous negative effects of the coronavirus pandemic, the fact that the Croatian courts weren’t operating didn’t prevent parties from submitting various submissions and filing new lawsuits, but, as Horvat explained, the courts will be able to act on those things only when they resume their normal way of functioning, and that only from that moment on will it be able to take the proper legal actions and engage normally.

On April the 9th, 2020, the Croatian Bar Association proposed to the Ministry of Justice to take the necessary steps and introduce measures to ensure the technical conditions for holding hearings and presenting evidence at a distance using audiovisual devices were fulfilled. Nothing, however, came of that proposal.

There are ways to organise the work of the courts, including court hearings in these conditions: maintaining social distancing when the courts process cases where they have one party, and by video link, which is already a practice in foreign courts and is also allowed in Croatian law.

“The coronavirus pandemic has brought the old problems of the Croatian judiciary back up to the surface again in the form of the age and the arrangement of court buildings and premises, the technical equipment in the courts, and so on. The decision determining the fulfillment of the conditions for electronic communication in all municipal courts, all county courts and the High Commercial Court of the Republic of Croatia is welcome,” concluded Horvat.

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