The road to justice is too expensive for citizens
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Court costs empty citizens’ pockets and sometimes they do not decide to complain to higher levels because of the enormous prices in the proceedings. A court proceeding could cost citizens and businesses from 100 Euros to several thousand Euros, depending on whether you submit an appeal, a complaint, an objection or answer to complaint, and that is why the battle for justice is not only long and difficult, but also not available to the majority of citizens. Any retrial brings new duties, not only to the courts but also to the lawyers who defend you in the procedure. And their appearance in court typically costs at least 3.000 denars.
Based on costs paid by injured parties, “Inbox 7” investigated how much the road to justice costs and whether it can be available to Macedonian citizens.
Justice is expensive
The price paid by clients for court fees is big, says Trajche Arsov, lawyer who represents two journalists of the weekly “Focus” convicted of libel and defamation in the case with the director of Administration for Security and Counterintelligence, Saso Mijalkov. According to the judgment, journalists paid 6,000 Euros damages and 3,312 Euros for court costs to Mijalkov.
“In this case particularly, only for the request for review of the case before the Supreme Court my clients paid legal fees in the amount of 54,000 denars. Earlier they paid 96.000 denars in secondary proceedings before the Appellate Court Skopje“, says Arsov.
The only hope is to pray to convince the judge that you are right because if you lose a lawsuit then despite your fees and expenses, you pay the ones of the person who wins the lawsuit. Arsov explains that citizens must not forget that if they want to use some of the regular or extraordinary legal remedies as another opportunity for access to justice, then the fees are doubled. This means that if you want to appeal the primary court decision before the higher appellate court, if you paid a fee of 1.200 denars, you will now have to pay 2,400 denars.
“By imposing such high taxes the state indirectly prevents, deters citizens to seek justice. And here we just talk about court fees. If you add legal fees, expertise costs and other costs in a procedure, then you will see that justice is very expensive”, says Arsov.
The state can do anything, citizens cannot
But even the fee paid cannot provide reliable access to justice. There are regulations under which the court has the right not to meet citizens’ request.
“There are various examples where requests can be turned down because they are disordered. For example, a copy of the decision is required through the lawyer who was not an authorized person, and the transcript is requested by the spouse of the accused, or a certificate of non-conviction is required by the spouse of the applicant. Court respects the Law on protection of personal data and for these reasons, these types of documents are obtained personally and individually, no matter whether spouses or family members carry their personal documents, or on behalf of the person to whom the request relates. Court fees are paid immediately when submitting these requests so that the request can be taken in handling and consideration”, they explain from Primary Court Skopje 1.
But these rules do not apply to the state. Public Prosecution and the State Attorney are exempt from the obligation to pay court fees.
“In accordance with the legal provisions Public Prosecution is not obliged to pay court fees. But not even in case of won dispute has the right to require payment of the costs of the procedure”, they say from the Public Prosecution of the Republic of Macedonia.
They reduce fees, but introduce new
The downward trend in the cost of court fees began in 2011, but in parallel with the decrease, the state introduced four new charges. For citizens to obtain a copy of the minutes of a court hearing, that by rules is sound recorded, they must pay 40 denars for each printed page. If, however, they want to have more copies, it would cost additional 20 denars for each printed page. 10 denars is to be paid for every printed page of judgment, order or court decision previously reported on the official website of the court. Another problem is the fact that courts are not sufficiently equipped to record all court hearings.
“Of 30 cases in civil proceedings we record five to ten hearings. So if someone asks for a sound recording from a court hearing, and the hearing is recorded, then we charge it, but if there is no recording then we give them free copies”, says spokesman Mihov.
Payment of court fees via mobile
All citizens who in the future want justice in court will have the opportunity to pay court fees via mobile phone and thereby save 15 percent of the costs in a single proceeding. This means that if you want to sue someone, and the dispute is worth 20.000 denars, instead of 1,200 denars which is the cost of the fee, you will pay 900 denars court fee.
“Rapid technological development, modernization of computer and software solutions and technical readiness of users have led to the need for the introduction of payment of all fees both through mobile operators and online. In order to motivate individuals to use electronic system of delivery which is also more economical, these amendments are proposed to the Law on court fees under which individuals who will deliver submissions electronically to the court will have a reduced amount of the fee for 15 percent”, it is written in the amendments to the Law on court fees.
No justice without proof of a paid fee
Payment of court fees electronically is an obligation introduced in 2009, but the practice of the courts shows that for the parties paying in the bank is still the safest way.
“So far in our court we have not had a case in which a party has paid the fees online. It is difficult to predict whether and how electronic payment will start but what is important is how the parties will prove that they have really paid the court fees. If there is no evidence the judge is obliged to turn down any citizens’ request”, says Stojan Mihov, spokesman of the Primary Court Stip.
Following the amendments to the Law on court fees, evidence of payment of court fees will be sent electronically.
“A taxpayer shall electronically submit to the court a scanned receipt of paid court fee, or other bank proof of payment of fees for the specific issue, and when proof is submitted of paid fee for court decision, the applicant shall specifically designate which decision the fee is paid for”, it is written in the law amendments.
The amendments do not specify whether the evidence of payment of fees will be sent to the email address of the court or by text message exactly to the specified phone number.
Poor citizens have a right to free legal aid. To obtain it they need to submit a proposal for exemption from paying court fees, statement of property position and statement of material-social position for the last six months prior to requesting exemption from paying court fees. The court has five days to decide whether to accept the proposal or to turn it down as unfounded.