Judgments "fall", defendants languish in prisons, citizens pay damages
Dozens of court cases for years have been waiting to be solved because primary courts reach verdicts that often
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Former Prime Minister and former Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski was sentenced to two years imprisonment as on Tuesday the Appellate Court – Skopje overturned the sentence of 3.5 years imprisonment imposed by the Primary Court Skopje 1.
In the case, generally known as “Tank parts” four other former associates of Buckovski have also been convicted. All were charged and convicted of unlawful purchase of tank parts in the conflict in 2001. This court case is one of dozens that have received the outcome after initial judgments “fell” before higher courts.
Like charges, like judgments
“Orese”, “Snake eye”, “Sunrise”, “Tank parts” are just a few of the dozens of processes that “fell” before higher, appellate court.
“There cannot be good judgments of bad charges which are often neither supported by strong evidence, nor there is evidence at all”, Zvonko Davidovic is decisive, the lawyer who defends the Georgievski brothers in one of the most controversial cases “Orese” that for the fourth time has been returned to the Primary Court Veles.
“Judgments are bad because judges have neither virtue nor courage to oppose the prosecutors. Particularly in “Orese” judges alone are contradictory. They twice returned the case for retrial because with no evidence the brothers were sentenced to 12 years imprisonment. This time the judges criticized their colleagues and violated the previous guidance and for the fourth time returned the trial back”, said Davidovic.
Sanja Aleksic, lawyer in the court case “Snake eye” says that judgments often “fall” because prosecutors often offer sufficient evidence to open an investigation, but not sufficient for prosecution.
“In “Snake eye”, the Appellate court recognized the deficiencies in the procedure so sent the case back for retrial. Thus, for example, in the evidence there were shots where only silhouettes could be seen, it was not heard what they were saying and whether talking among themselves at all. It was interesting that the experts rather than determining specific damage, they manipulated the supposed damage, a term that does not exist at all in the Criminal Procedure Code“, explains Aleksic.
Each lost judgment in Strasbourg is a new violation of human rights
The right to life and liberty, the right to humane treatment and the right to fair and reasonable trial are the most common human rights that Macedonia violates, whenever it loses a judgment in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg or when trials in the country drag on indefinitely, says Uranija Pirovska, president of the Helsinki Committee for Human rights in Macedonia.
“Custody that judges usually impose is collective without any explanation and without taking into consideration the possibility of imposing some of the alternative measures. Now maybe there is a little progress in that regard, but there are very few judges who take into account the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights and the practice of the Strasbourg Court”, says Pirovska.
Such was the case with the brothers Dimitar and Gjorgji Miladinovi in the trial “Sunrise” and 38 – defendants in the case “Snake eye” accused of embezzling five million Euros from pay tolls across the country.
Miladinovi spent almost two years in custody in prison Shutka in Skopje, the defendants in the “Snake eye” were there for less than a year, and meanwhile were laid off. That is why the ECHR in both cases ruled in favor of all defendants.
Kostadin Bogdanov, government agent who represents Macedonia in Strasbourg says the country is in the middle of the court’s chart on the number of complaints per capita.
“Every year there are about 500 complaints to the Strasbourg court which is not a large number compared to Serbia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, where there are between 7,000 and 10,000 complaints a year. With the introduction of the constitutional complaint we expect the number of 500 complaints a year to reduce”, says Bogdanov.
Poorly written sentences and lack of evidence
Lawyer Naser Raufi who has been working on a dozen cases of organized crime, says court verdicts “fall” because of poor charges, often not supported with strong evidence, but also because of poorly written sentences.
“I believe that the responsibility of judges is slightly larger because they are not bound by the indictment. They have the right to convict a person, but also to release the accused. They also can reject the accusation. On the other hand, charges are usually with weak evidence that does not match the facts, and prosecutors who are sent to the “front” in the courtroom have either not undergone training at the Academy for Judges and Public Prosecutors, or have not completed it yet”, says Raufi.
Vladimir Panchevski, president of the Primary Court Skopje 1, responsible for prosecuting cases of organized crime, explains that the quality of judicial decisions, among other things, depends on whether a decision will be investigated legally.
“The quality of judicial decisions, among other things, depends on whether a decision will be investigated legally and in certain objective circumstances with strict regulations any subjective influences in decision making by judges would be avoided. I think it increases citizens’ confidence in the judiciary system. I am certainly saying this in terms of criminal matters, which concerns freedoms and rights of certain citizens who have violated the law”, says Panchevski.
Prosecution and court measure the success differently
Quashed verdicts are not a result of flaws in the charges but the flaws that the Appellate court noted in the first instance judgment, according to the Public Prosecution. For them, prosecution’s success is measured by the number of convictions.
“When the court rules that the defendant is guilty and convicted, it is considered that the prosecution is successful. In further court proceedings, subject to review on appeal are not the charges, but the verdict. It is either revoked or confirmed”, they say for Inbox7 from the prosecution.
According to the statistics from the Public Prosecutor’s Office for Organized Crime and Corruption, in 2013 of a total of 237 persons for whom rulings were brought by the higher Appellate court, for only five of them the verdict was revoked. For 185 people the first instance judgments were confirmed, and for 48 the Primary Court verdict was overturned.
From Primary Court Skopje 1, competent for trial of offenses related to organized crime, they say that revoking and confirming judgments is not a phenomenon that should cause particular concern because it is impossible judgments to be confirmed hundred percent. But if it were so, it would not increase public trust in the judiciary and would not mean legal security of citizens.
“We must not overlook the fact that despite the convictions, the court passes acquittals and court statistics say that there are a growing number of quashed verdicts where defendants were acquitted in respect of quashed verdicts where the defendants were convicted. It is interesting in the legal practice that sometimes higher courts revoke a rejection judgment in its entirety. This means that although the prosecutor dropped the prosecution, higher courts return the case back under the accusation, which is a legal absurdity, says court president Vladimir Panchevski.
According to court statistics, from 2007 to June 2014, from a total of 498 cases for which the department for organized crime acted, 219 cases (44%) were confirmed, 50 of them (10%) were revoked, 20 cases (4% ) were changed, and 84 (18%) of the cases remain in operation in court to final completion.
The state violates the rights, citizens pay damages
For lawyer Aleksic there is no doubt that in the “Snake eye” human rights have been violated.
“The defendant I defended had a herniated disc, suffered pains, but was in custody. It was horrible knowing what the conditions in prisons are like. Specifically for this case, I think that the indictment was not well-supported, and the custody of defendants was imposed as a rule rather than exception, as provided by law. We must not forget the financial consequences in the process in which judgments are “falling”. With each new trial procedural costs rise, thereby burdening the state budget. It is citizens’ money”, said Aleksic.
Professor Vanco Uzunov has long been warning that the judge decides not only for one’s freedom but for the people’s money, too. He divides the custody costs in concrete costs for realization of custody, and costs for services that are engaged. In the second group there are costs called lost income, and refer to the detainees who remain jobless.
“One day custody costs about 14 Euros, and monthly social assistance costs about 35 Euros which is equal to the amount of three days custody. The average wage in 2011 in Macedonia was 346 Euros per month or 15 Euros per day, that is a custody day, and 7 Euros a day in the textile industry which is equivalent to half the cost of one day in custody. The data are two years ago, but to date there are no drastic changes. Therefore they are still valid”, said Uzunov.
In this research Inbox 7 cannot but mention the re-employed in the Public Enterprise for State Roads which were arrested in both police actions “Snake eye” 1 and 2 and lost their jobs. Four years later, in February 2012, by order of the Government and the decision of the Managing Board of the company, 74 employees received new employment contracts for new job positions.
Editor: Stojanka Mitreska