Montenegro: Failure to ensure judicial independence hindering access to justice, says UN expert
26 September 2023
PODGORICA (26 September 2023) – The failure to elect the seventh member of the Constitutional Court, the Supreme State Prosecutor and new lay members of the judicial council has put plans for judicial reform at risk in Montenegro, a UN expert said today.
“The failure to ensure the independence and integrity of the judicial system in Montenegro is hindering access to justice for its citizens,” said Margaret Satterthwaite, UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers in a statement at end of an official visit to the country.
Satterthwaite said Montenegro’s Parliament had failed, on multiple occasions, to elect the seventh member of the Constitutional Court, the Supreme State Prosecutor, and new lay members of the Judicial Council.
“As a result, strategic leadership in these institutions is lacking, and planning and action for reform of the system is not possible. Members of Parliament must put the interests of their country above politics, and ensure these appointments take place without any further delay,” the expert said.
During her visit, Satterthwaite met with judges and prosecutors who reported working in conditions that were manifestly underfunded. Buildings were old, too small, and in a poor state of repair. There was insufficient office space, creating security risks for judges and prosecutors and IT and digitalisation was severely lacking, the Special Rapporteur found.
“During my visits to courts, I was shocked to see and hear about inadequate facilities for storage of archives and evidence, including firearms and drugs,” the expert said.
Satterthwaite said that while various governments had outlined plans for new court buildings over the years, the plans had not resulted in concrete improvements.
She called for additional resources to be provided and decisions on allocation taken with the strictest respect for the principle of judicial and prosecutorial independence.
The Special Rapporteur met many organisations that described being repeatedly excluded, overlooked, or mistreated by the system. Groups representing persons with disabilities, women survivors of intimate partner and family violence, Roma, LGBT persons and others spoke of excessive delays, insensitive or uninformed judges and prosecutors, and a lack of political will to make progress.
Satterthwaite said she recognised the energy and commitment of individuals she met in every part of the judicial system and civil society, who were sincerely working, in good faith, to provide justice and serve their country.
“I salute their efforts and stand ready to offer my assistance and support. I encourage all others in Montenegro and the broader international community to do the same,” the expert said.
She noted that while many of the laws and systems necessary to ensure independence, integrity and quality justice services were now in place in Montenegro, implementation remains deficient.
“If Montenegro cannot, or will not, take steps to ensure the independent, impartial and competent functioning of the judicial system, then a radical accountability measure, such as vetting, must be considered,” Satterthwaite said.
The Special Rapporteur will present a comprehensive report containing her findings and recommendations to the Human Rights Council in Geneva in June 2024.
*The expert: Ms. Margaret Satterthwaite, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers. She was appointed as United Nations Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers by the Human Rights Council in October 2022. Professor Satterthwaite is an international human rights scholar and practitioner with decades of experience in the field. She is a Professor of Clinical Law at New York University School of Law.
The Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.