Accelerating Civil Proceedings in Croatia
tant innovations will be described, such as the new, increased sanctions for dis- respect of procedural discipline that are aimed at strengthening the role of judges, provisions for concentrating proceedings by limiting inter alia the right to present new evidence and make new factual assertions, departure from the inquisitorial principle in favour of an adversarial obligation to produce evidence, etc. At the end of this paper, a critical assessment will be made of the achievements of past and cur- rent attempts to reduce delays and improve the speed of the proceedings.
Duration as a fundamental problem of the judicial system? Several theses about the origins of the fixation on the time dimension of the trial
The judicial system in the Republic of Croatia is certainly burdened with many seri- ous problems. However, the issue of the duration of court proceedings has moved to the forefront in recent years.
The simplest explanation for why this topic has assumed such a central posi- tion in public debate may be found in the fact that lengthy proceedings are indeed a first-class problem in Croatia. There is a lot of truth to this explanation. But closer analysis will show that several additional aspects play a prominent role in stimulat- ing discussion of the need to accelerate proceedings. Let us note several additional external aspects that have, perhaps, made an even bigger contribution to the popu- larity of this topic than any objective analysis of the length of civil legal proceed- ings:
Several judicial statistics published in the 1990s pointed out that the number of unresolved cases has more than doubled despite the fact that there has been no increase in the number of cases initiated;2
Certain cases in which court proceedings lasted several decades have come to the centre of public media attention;3
After Croatia became a member of the Council of Europe in 1997, the first cases in which the European Court of Human Rights found a violation of hu- man rights in Croatia were concerned directly with the right to a trial within a reasonable time;4
According to the data of the Ministry of Justice, in 1989 there were 1.240.000 new cases in Croatian courts; about 485.000 cases were considered as backlog. Five years later, in 1994, there were only 1.086.000 new cases, but the number of backlogged cases rose to 640.000. In 1998, the influx of new cases was at 1.006.000, and the backlog stood at 895.000. In 2001, there were about 1.200.000 new cases, but the backlog was over a million, i.e., 1.020.413. These data do not include cases pending in the petty offence courts. See Statistical Overview for 2001 of the Ministry of Justice, Zagreb, March 2002 (not published). E.g., the Rajak case - a case initiated in 1975, and still pending at first instance in 2000. The case finally came before the European Court of Human Rights - see infra next note. Cases Rajak v. Croatia (49706/99), Mikuli v. Croatia (53176/99), Horvat v. Croatia (51585/99), Fütterer v. Croatia (52634/99), Kuti v. Croatia (48778/99), Cerin v. Croatia (54727/00) and simi- lar cases.