USAID SPP at the 2013 National Judges Conference in Vrnjacka Banja

USAID Separation of Powers Program (SPP) assisted the Supreme Court of Cassation organize its annual conference of over 1,000 judges in the central Serbian town of Vrnjacka Banja, from October 6-9. The Conference, which focused on recent developments in court practice and the legal environment, was opened by Minister of Justice Nikola Selakovic and Chief Justice Dragomir Milojevic. Other guests included top diplomats, OSCE Ambassador in Serbia Peter Burkhard and head of the Council of Europe Office in Belgrade Antje Rothemund.

The program for the first day included a presentation by European legal expert and SPP consultant Dr. Pim Albers, who educated conferees about the European Day of Civil Justice, a day set aside in October for courts to open their doors and educate citizens about their civic role and daily operations. This led nicely into the second day of the program, where SPP consultants made presentations to all court presidents about public trust in courts and the National Backlog Reduction Plan.

Dr. Mark West, who assisted in drafting the Communications Strategy of the High Court Council, gave a brief lecture about how courts can work to improve public trust and confidence, develop court outreach activities and increase transparency in the judiciary. He was followed by Dr. Albers, who presented SPP's Draft National Backlog Reduction Plan, which calls for an eighty percent reduction of older cases over the next five years, using methods proven effective in SPP partner courts and documented in SPP's Best Practices Guide.

The Conference, an overall success, highlighted the progress of broad judicial reforms underway in Serbia, serving as the country’s only gathering for judges to examine their challenges and exchange their best practices.