Although judicial reforms have been ongoing for more than a decade in the countries of the Western Balkans, no significant progress has been observed, in particular as it relates to impact. The essence of these reforms has been limited to updating the legislative framework and other technical matters, but implementation and anticorruption performance has remained poor. Comparative analyses of available data reveal that the legislative and the executive still exercise a strong influence on the judiciary election process and budget allocation across the region of the Western Balkans. All of these issues present major hurdles on the EU accession path of the Western Balkan countries (Albania, Bosna and Herzegovina, Kosovo*, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia).
SELDI’s policy brief notes that:
- As a result of the lack of independence and undue influence, public perception of judiciary corruption in the Western Balkans is grim. According to the SELDI Corruption Monitoring System 2019, between 55% and 94% of the citizens of the Western Balkan countries believe that judiciary officials are corrupt.
- The judicial reforms stop short of enforcement and still lack concrete results. The number of final convictions of public officials implicated in corruption remain in the single digits despite public knowledge that indicates otherwise.
- Corruption is compounded and blurred by many additional challenges across the judiciaries in the region. Public prosecutors’ offices remain underfunded. There is a lack of specialized competence, such as for example financial forensics. Management structures are unclear and competences overlap.
- In recent years, Western Balkan countries have introduced the practice of an initial training and evaluation (or vetting) of judges as part of the judicial reform process, the effects of which have yet to be fully observed. Albania has introduced checks into the candidate judges’ assets. North Macedonia applies integrity tests.
- There are many steps that the Western Balkan countries need to undertake to achieve EU standards of law enforcement. The independence of the judiciary should be increased, reducing political meddling and oligarchic capture; the appointment, promotion and dismissal of judges and prosecutors need to be transparent; codes of ethics should be amended to address corruption; prosecutors’ and judges’ colleges should be split up and continuous training for holders of judicial office should be made compulsory.