“At the same time, I also want to improve working conditions for judges and other staff in the judiciary,” Dobronić said in the interview a few days after he was sworn in as president of the highest court.
His appointment put an end to a months-long disagreement over candidates for that post between the president as the constitutional proposer and the prime minister, who holds the majority in the parliament.
Known to the public as the Commercial Court judge who ruled in favor of holders of loans denominated in the Swiss franc, Dobronić was appointed after receiving support from a broad spectrum of political parties at a time when the judiciary is often mentioned as the weakest link in the Croatian society.
Rulings should be justified, reasonable and fair
“The image of the judiciary will improve when courts create a well-founded feeling with their rulings that they try evenly and treat all parties equally and when rulings are not only formally legal but also justified, reasonable and fair,” Dobronić said, adding that so far that had not been the case to a sufficient degree.
The Supreme Court president, who also chairs the State Election Commission, believes that he will cooperate well with all judges, the Office of the Chief State Prosecutor, and other stakeholders in the judiciary.
“The system could be described as a coalition of allies and I will act accordingly,” said Dobronić, whose program was not supported by the Supreme Court General Convention, made up of all Supreme Court judges, while the parliament supported it with 120 votes in favor and 3 against.
Judges with job norm – judicial clerks
“Judges are primarily motivated by their responsibility and not by meeting the job norm because a judge with a job norm is not a judge but some sort of judicial clerk. It seems that this is not entirely understood, that is, there is a fear that without a job norm, judges would not be doing anything,” said Dobronić, for whom it transpired during the nomination period that the State Judicial Council had launched disciplinary proceedings against him for not meeting the job norm in 2019.
Depicting judges as poor workers is unacceptable and the truth in most cases is quite the opposite, he said, adding that in the short time that he had held the office he had noticed “a very small number of cases in which judges have concluded main hearings but have not made and forwarded rulings within the legally prescribed deadline.”
“Such situations should definitely be avoided. Not only is there no reason for the parties not to be sent the judgment, but such conduct is contrary to the principle of immediacy,” he said.
“I will insist that such situations do not recur… they create an impression of irresponsibility, which is not good,” he said.
In the current atmosphere of dissatisfaction with the judiciary, he noted, it is being forgotten that a part of judges and court clerks, too, are dissatisfied with the situation in the system.
Computerization or new bureaucracy
Dobronić believes that the quantity and quality of judges’ work are affected adversely by three facts – poor spatial conditions, the degree and form of IT support, and the job norm.
He noted that in terms of the physical condition of courts, Croatia has started lagging behind not only old EU members but new, Eastern European ones as well.
It is justified to insist on the computerization of the system to increase its efficiency and transparency, but if the system, instead of working better and faster, becomes slower as more users connect to it, computerization will not facilitate work but rather cause more red tape, he said.
In that context, he called for significantly and promptly improving and simplifying the system, also to make certain types of decisions immediately publicly available.
As for the job norm, Dobronić said that it was not right to deal with the problem of backlogs by continually increasing the norm, “which is unacceptable and contrary to the standard European practice.”
He said that he expected support from the executive authority in removing those systemic problems, noting that the state, as the owner of numerous companies, local government units, institutes, and agencies, as well as public municipal companies do not need to engage in numerous litigation cases.
“I expect the executive authorities in that regard to make action plans for next year to withdraw at least 10% of lawsuits… and I expect court presidents to focus more on work organization in a way that will be in line with the type of cases their judges work on,” he said.
In that context, he said that he would see to it that the assignment of cases was reduced to the minimum.
Dobronić supported a better model of hiring legal secretaries and pointed to the problem of court reporters and other judicial employees leaving courts because of demanding work and low salaries.
Asked about judicial appointments in line with political criteria, Dobronić said that he could not answer that question because it refers to something he has no experience with.
“It is possible that it has happened, but I do not think the model of appointment itself is so much the problem… the main problem in the way judges are appointed is that… the main criterion is evaluating their work is the number of resolved cases, that is, expediency and other statistical data. That type of evaluation does not exist in most EU countries and it has resulted in the system being fully bureaucratized, with judges thinking more about meeting the job norm than about the quality of their rulings,” he said.
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