“This is yet another fake reform, an attempt to show that something is being done with the aim of actually preventing any radical change in the judiciary,” said Sandra Benčić of the Green-Left Bloc.
Peđa Grbin of the Social Democratic Party, too, believes the proposed amendments would not result in any improvement to the judiciary, and that in two years’ time, one would again be saying that the situation in the judiciary was deteriorating.
Katarina Peović of the Workers’ Front was of the same opinion, warning of the centralisation of power in the hands of the Justice Ministry.
“The minister will be able to decide who gets hired and what kind of employment exam will have to be taken”, said Peović.
Criticising the proposal to run periodic background checks on judges, Dalija Orešković of the Centre party said Croatia was the only EU country where a political party convicted of corruption held decision-making powers on the judiciary.
“Why is the government pushing for background checks, isn’t that an act by the government of exerting influence”, asked Vesna Nađ of the Social Democrats.
Justice Ministry State Secretary Josip Salapić dismissed the criticisms, explaining that background checks would be done by the Security and Intelligence Agency (SOA), which would only determine the facts. The decision on whether there was an obstacle for a judge to do their job would then be made by a special council.
Decisions not to be made by politicians but judges
“Politicians will not be the ones to decide on anything, that will be done by judges, the situation is transparent”, said Salapić.
Ruling HDZ party MPs consider the government-sponsored amendments as a significant improvement.
“Background checks already exist for judges of the Office for Suppression of Corruption and Organised Crime (USKOK), and now they will apply to all judges, which is a good solution”, said HDZ MP Damir Habijan.
As for MP Orešković’s criticism about the HDZ’s clout in the judiciary, Habijan wondered who should put forward bills, “the ruling majority or a deputy who won 0.16% of votes in the elections?”
Marija Jelkovac (HDZ) welcomed changes designed to improve the financial status of court police, and that the age limit to hire interns has been increased from 30 to 35 years.
Changes to the law on courts, and the law on areas and seats of courts, include a more precise definition regarding the procedure to elect the Supreme Court president. They also introduced background checks for all judges every five years.
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