Marathon trials: 17 years and 57 hearings in search for truth about a murder in Skopje
We found that marathon trials take place in courts in Skopje, Gevgelija, Veles, Strumica, Bitola, Kavadarci, Resen, Debar and Delcevo. On average, trials in the country last 370 days, and when it comes to debt collection, citizens are very patient; they wait for ten years and more
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Bumpy, hard and long is the road to justice, especially if it is required in the judiciary such as Macedonian, burdened with qualifications that it fails to dispose of, despite all the reforms implemented. Inbox7 researched how long the Macedonian road to Justicia is? What is the longest trial? Do we have marathon trials? What are the reasons for this? We researched into 27 primary courts in the country and this is what we found out.
Bankruptcy proceedings, debt collection and division of property, most common trials last long, for five, ten or twenty years. The longest trial in the field of crime, which has lasted for 17 years and has been to 57 hearings takes place before the biggest court in the country, Primary Court Skopje 1. We found that marathon trials take place in courts in Skopje, Gevgelija, Veles, Strumica, Bitola, Kavadarci, Resen, Debar and Delcevo. On average, trials in the country last 370 days.
We received the responses by courts in the survey for the longest trials upon request for access to public information. In the legally prescribed period for response, we did not only get responses from three primary courts, Negotino, Tetovo and Krusevo.
After eighteen years wandering through court mazes, no resolution for some of the largest companies which in the nineties of the last century went bankrupt. Thus, before Primary Court Skopje 2, there has been a trial since 1996 in which former employees in a Skopje company and the state as a creditor, seek their claims to be settled.
Lawyer Trajce Arsov for Inbox 7 says that a debt as a basis for initiating a dispute is very common, because we have illiquid economy, indebted enterprises, companies with blocked accounts that are unable to service their obligations to creditors on time. Although recent amendments to the Law on Civil Procedure, which began to be applied in September 2011, give many deadlines, says Arsov, however, it is impossible for them to be respected especially by the courts such as Primary Court 2 Skopje, which is filled with cases.
“In courts with fewer cases, these deadlines are acceptable and can be complied with only if the judge is accurate and efficient. As for the bankruptcy proceedings, before the old law of 2006 being amended, they lasted a very long time because it was necessary for settlement of all property of the debtor. That means lawsuits for all debtors who have not paid the debt, determining the bankruptcy creditors before that, which is followed by separate civil proceedings. For faster and more efficient completion of these procedures, the Parliament earlier this year passed a new law that has yet to show how it would apply and whether it will give the expected results”, says Arsov.
More than a decade in a debt collection lawsuit
A middle aged man from Bitola over 13 years ago began proceedings before the Primary Court to get the money he was owed. He could not withstand the pressure and the cost that he further had for fees and various other charges, so he gave up on debt collection. However, earlier this year he asked the Bitola Court for re-procedure for the debt collection.
“The case was registered in 2001, but in 2003 an application was filed for dismissal of proceedings. A year later, in 2004, a request was filed the case to be archived until January this year when again we had a request for continuation of the proceedings”, they say from the Primary Court in Bitola.
During our research we found that in courts in Kavadarci, Resen and Debar there are also such marathon lawsuits, filed for collecting debts.
Citizens are willing to wait for justice for years, sometimes for decades when it comes to property division. So Delcevo court for a fifth year cannot rule how to divide a property between two families.
“According to our records, the trial is between two parties that have brought a civil action to prove ownership. Because a case not solved for two years is considered old, the procedure is ceased with a decision. The reason for this is that the parties, after the case was completed, did not request extension of the proceedings. Thus, the case is archived as resolved”, they say from the Primary Court Delcevo.
Such cases still take place before the court in Kumanovo.
Aljesa Alii, a spokeswoman for the Primary Court in Gostivar, says that since the amended Law on Civil Procedure began to apply there have been no cases that cannot be resolved for years.
“Even if there are such cases, the reasons for their delay are commonly objective and refer to how complex the case is. Thus, for example, when it comes to divorces, especially those in which there is consent to divorce, there is nothing to prolong. Two to three hearings, the judge decides and that lasts briefly. But, for example, when it comes to determining the property or when you need to determine the value of any property or any damages, then it takes time. Therefore such disputes last longer, so the law allows the judge instead to decide in 15 days, to do it for one month at most”, says Alii.
He explains that now it is much easier for judges as under the new law a preliminary hearing must be scheduled within eight days. The delay cannot last for more than eight days, except for severe cases for which the deadline is 30 days.
“The verdict must be written within 15 days, Appellate court must decide upon the appeal within three months. Only in exceptional cases within six months. The Supreme Court must decide upon the appeal within eight months. These are the deadlines prescribed by law which are aimed at speeding up the proceedings”, explains Alii.
According to the judge Alii, agreement and mediation are the solution to shorten the lengthy processes and comply with deadlines.
“This is especially valid for offenses such as libel, slander, light bodily injury. But here it is difficult for agreement and mediation to come to fruition. Our awareness is still low”, said Alii.
The longest process takes place in the biggest court
Courts in Skopje, Kratovo, Vinica, Radovish and Struga struggle to complete criminal cases started five, ten or fifteen years ago.
The research by Inbox 7 showed that the longest trial in the field of crime takes place before the biggest court in the country, Primary Court Skopje 1. This Court even after seventeen years and 57 hearings, has not managed to end the process open for murder that happened in 1997. According to the data received, the trial began in March 1998 and after 18 hearings, the procedure had to be stopped for four of the five defendants, because the offense for which they were charged (“Participation in a fight”) became outdated. After this there were 19 hearings for the fifth defendant, and in March 2006 he was sentenced to eight years in prison. This conviction was quashed by the Court of Appeals and the trial was returned for retrial.
“The trial started again in April 2007. There were 20 major hearings and in most of them legal assumptions were not fulfilled to be able to hold the hearing. Either prosecution witnesses did not appear, or the prosecutor, expert, and in several cases the defender”, they say from Primary Court Skopje 1.
In 2011, the defendant was again convicted of murder, this time of six years in prison, but the Appellate court again revoked the verdict and returned the case for a second time to a new trial. The third retrial began in 2012 and so far there have been 10 major hearings. The process continues in September 2014.
Lawyer Zvonko Davidovic, who hasbeen trying for six years to prove that his clients, Gjorgjievski brothers are not guilty of murdering a resident of village Orese, Veles, sees the reason for the lengthy trials, as he says, in uneducated judges.
“There are judges who do not know the laws, or if they know them, they do not apply them. Simply not capable, nor have the courage to cut. Particular the case Orese has been taking place for six years and has been returned for trial for the fourth time. The Appellate court does not decide, and the case is only returned to a new trial. Less common, but I have had cases of theft or robbery that have been completed after three hearings. Part of the blame for not respecting deadlines is prosecution’s, which in some cases can for many times alter or amend the indictment, propose or withdraw multitude evidence. This is particularly true for cases of organized crime as it was ‘Kaldrma’, where there were 86 defendants”, said Davidovic.
The trial of “Kaldrma“, the biggest case in Macedonia so far, lasted less than a year. It started in late July 2012 and ended late May 2013.
Legal case completed in two days
The case of juvenile Aleksandra Bosnjakovska is a process completed in a very short time. After only two days. Aleksandra’s father, grandfather and grandmother were sentenced to a suspended sentence of one year in prison (for a period of four years they shall not commit another crime). According to the verdict, they were guilty of taking away the girl from her mother Tatjana.
Courts in Kratovo, Vinica and Radovish for five years cannot judge defendants on the charged crimes: violence, preventing an officer in execution of duty, as well as offenses such as: serious offenses against traffic safety and causing general danger.
One of the most interesting cases which has been lasting for twelve years is to be solved by the Primary court in Struga. The trial has dragged on because the convict is on the run. The case was listed in court in 2002, and an international arrest warrant has been issued after the prisoner.
There are deadlines for prosecutors, too
In public prevails the opinion that the prosecution has no deadline to complete an investigation. However, the Law on Civil Procedure, which began to be implemented in 2013, provides that in the pre-trial proceedings, the public prosecutor shall, within three months, decide on any charges, and if there is an investigation, it should be completed within six months. This period may be extended for another six months by a senior prosecutor, or for three months by a decision of the public prosecutor. For acts of organized crime, the extension by the public prosecutor may be for another six months. Upon further investigation, there is a period of 15 days for filing an indictment, which for offenses of organized crime can be extended to 30 days.