proceedings does not unfold at the desired speed.7 Although the degree of slowness is not the same with regard to different types of proceedings,8 it exists to a greater or lesser extent in relation to practically all kinds of proceedings. Territorially, this problem exists as well, with greater delays in larger towns than in provincial courts (where occasionally even surplus capacity may be found).9 On the other hand, as the tip of the iceberg, several prominent cases of notoriously lengthy trials featured prominently in public discussion, particularly in the context of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights against the Republic of Croatia.
By examining individual Croatian court proceedings from the beginning to the end (vertical analysis), it is evident that improvements in speed could be realized at practically all stages. However, delays appear more often at some stages of proceed- ings than at other stages. One of the major issues is the concentration of first in- stance (trial) proceedings – they are often carried out at numerous hearings which are distant in time from each other. Problems also appear with respect to the deli- very of communications in proceedings, which opens extensive possibilities to abuse formal requirements and to obstruct the process. After the conclusion of the first instance hearings, delays often happen in the process of drafting and delivering written copies of the judgment – a process that regularly lasts at least several months.10 Bottlenecks also appear in appellate proceedings, which often last even longer than first instance proceedings. When an appeal is heard, the result is often the annulment of the judgment and the ordering of a retrial at the first-instance court. This repetitive situation can happen several times in the same case, theoreti- cally without limit. These and similar neuralgic points in the course of proceedings have largely motivated the 2003 Amendments of the Code of Civil Procedure (see infra, chapter 7).
The procedural and political tradition as background to the problem of the inappropriate duration of court proceedings
Some of the causes of problems in relation to the duration of court proceedings are to be found in the legal and procedural traditions of the Croatian judicial system, as well as in the specific historical circumstances under which it has developed.
This is supported by a survey of 12 countries and territories of southeastern Europe con- ducted in February 2002 by the Swedish International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA). It showed that in Croatia (unlike any other of the countries researched) courts enjoy the lowest public trust among all domestic institutions (only 17% of the citizens trust the courts, compared to 60% with trust in the Church, 55% with trust in private enter- prises and 37% with trust in universities). See <http://www.idea.int/balkans/survey.cfm>. E.g., delays in commercial disputes are not always as dramatic as those in some proceedings before courts of general jurisdiction. There are examples of courts that exist only on paper, although their judges have been ap- pointed and receive salaries. However, because of the lack of need for some such courts, their actual opening has been postponed indefinitely. In some cases courts would even deliver the judgment to the parties several years after the conclusion of the hearing. See infra, chapter 7.3.6.