Civil society groups across Serbia have stepped up protests against the controversial Draft on Amendments to the Law on Civil Procedure proposed by the Ministry of Justice. On Thursday, July 1, a movement of lawyers called “Not a Step Back” organized a protest march in Belgrade from the Serbian Bar Association to the supreme court demanding the withdrawal of the draft bill. The protesting lawyers accused the ministry of violating legal regulations while drafting the controversial document. More than 80 civil society groups have also issued a joint statement calling on the Ministry of Justice to withdraw the bill.
The ministry had published the Draft Law on Amendments to the Law on Civil Procedure in mid-May. Provisions in the draft for mandatory payment of court fees within the stipulated time are likely to hamper the right of access to court for many ordinary citizens, activists and independent media. Critics also claim that the draft was made in a non-transparent and undemocratic process without seeking adequate participation and opinions from lawyers’ groups and civil society organizations. According to reports, the new Article 98b stipulates that a lawsuit for which the court fee has not been paid will be considered withdrawn within the deadline prescribed by the law governing court fees.
Milijana Trifković opined in Masina that the new amendment is likely to affect the rights of independent media and activists acting in public interests to participate in proceedings of lawsuits and trials as their right to justice would depend on their ability to pay very high fees in the short term.
“Two recent lawsuits against the editor and founder of the Jugpress agency, who have to pay fees of around 100,000 dinars for answers to the lawsuit, illustrate this problem well,” said Trifković.
Prior to the protest on Thursday, lawyer Milica Mitrović told the media that “the draft came about by lobbying very narrow interest groups” and that it is not in the interest of citizens or the bar.
The Party of the Radical Left (PRL) is Serbia has expressed solidarity with the protests and demanded the withdrawal of the bill and to dissolve the working group that prepared the bill. “The goal of this law is to prevent ordinary citizens from exercising their rights, especially against banks and other powerful institutions and puts money over people’s lives,” alleged the PRL.