Accelerating Civil Proceedings in Croatia
retrial through appeal and other legal remedies. On the basis of the socialist under- standing of the ‘principle of material truth’, virtually unlimited possibilities of in- troducing new facts and evidence were established at first instance and appellate proceedings.17 In addition, there was an established practice of the appellate courts limiting themselves to revoking a decision and sending the case back for retrial. Theoretical justification was found in the principle of immediacy (direct, personal evaluation of evidence) although very little of this principle remained in practice. Possibilities of State intervention through so-called ‘requests for protection of legal- ity’ (zahtjev za zaštitu zakonitosti) by the State Attorney were introduced into civil proceedings. All this, taken together, served as a specific shock absorber for political blows against justice. But, on the other hand it surely did not contribute to the au- thority of judicial decisions and the firmness of court decisions, even with respect to those that were formally considered to be res iudicata.
Such a state of affairs certainly did not raise the awareness of judges of the need for the efficient management of proceedings and to ensure a reasonable dura- tion for pre-trial, trial and post-trial routines. It was reflected in the expectations of candidates for judicial service, the recruitment and the selection of judges. Through several decades of socialist rule, the judicial profession was considered by graduate lawyers as a relatively poorly paid and bureaucratic branch of the civil service. Its advantages were seen in providing a relatively non-demanding job, with no pres- sure to do the work urgently and a lot of free time.
Thus, the typical distribution of jobs in families of lawyers was the following: the spouse who took care of the children went into judicial employment, while the other, bread-winning spouse supported the family by practising law as a private at- torney. Even if this typical perception has an anecdotal character, the numbers are incontestable: in the ranks of judges of the courts of first instance at the beginning of the 90s in Croatia, women were significantly more numerous than men.18
When Croatia left the Yugoslav Federation in 1991, through a painful process marked by war and instability, there was a radical turn away from socialist collec- tivism. The doctrines of Marxism, of ‘social property’ and self-management were abandoned, and the prevalence of private ownership was re-established. That was a completely new situation for the national Judiciary. In the first place, there were much greater expectations, they had much greater responsibility and much more important tasks. Yet, some things did not change. For example, the attitude of poli- ticians towards the Judiciary remained unchanged and – especially under war con- ditions – it was expected that judges would serve the interests of the political re- gime. For a period of six to seven years, the newly introduced constitutional princi- ples of the independence of justice, tenured appointments and the separation of powers were not applied in practice. Many judges were appointed and dismissed in that period, again not according to objective and well-defined criteria of competence and responsibility, but according to their closeness to the centres of power, and po-
See infra, chapter 7.2.1. According to statistical data for 1998, about 65% of trial court judges were women. However, at the same time, they constituted only about 40% of the judges of the Supreme Court.