The finish line, photo: Predrag Trokicic
The finish line, photo: Predrag Trokicic

Last week, members of the national assembly voted on so-called ‘prominent legal experts’ (PLE), future members of judicial councils. The assembly tried to choose 8 future members of the High council of the judiciary and the High council of the prosecution from a total of 16 candidates.1 The election required the support of two-thirds of the MPs, and only one candidate got it – the senior prosecutor’s assistant from Pancevo, Aleksandar Popovic (more on him later). The remaining 7 members of the judicial councils will be elected through a new alternative constitutional mechanism, the so-called five-member committee. We have already warned about how dangerous it is to allow the committee to form the councils and thereby prevent the prosecution and the judiciary from evolving from auxiliary bodies of executive power into independent ones. As is usually the case, it did not take long for these objections and fears to transform into very real, tangible and difficult-to-resolve problems.

The committee that will select these PLEs consists of the president of the national assembly, the president of the Constitutional court, the president of the Supreme court, the Supreme public prosecutor and the Ombudsman. This committee decides by majority vote. Therefore, only 3 committee votes will be enough to elect seven PLEs.

If we look at the people in this committee, they were all elected to positions by the national assembly. They are Vladimir Orlic, Zagorka Dolovac, Jasmina Vasovic, Snezana Markovic and Zoran Pasalic. However, as if that were not bad enough, all 5 were elected by a national assembly in which the ruling majority was held by the same coalition – the one headed by the Serbian progressive party. The president of the national assembly, Vladimir Orlic, who is also a party official, was elected by the assembly in 2022. The president of the Supreme court, Jasmina Vasovic, and the Chief prosecutor, Zagorka Dolovac, were elected by the assembly in 2021 (both proceedings were problematic and non-transparent). The president of the Constitutional court, Snezana Markovic, was elected by the assembly in 2016, while the election of the Ombudsman, Zoran Pasalic, happened only recently. He was re-elected last Thursday.

So, these 5 people who were elected by the national assembly and who, without a doubt, owe these positions to their political usefulness and professional obedience, will decide the fate of the Serbian judiciary. The PLEs elected to the High council of the prosecutor’s office will cement the influence of the legislative and executive authorities (6/11 votes), while in the High council of the judiciary, the new members will have the power to influence or block the decisions of the Supreme court. Their vote will be decisive for the establishment of a quorum for holding a session, which was already discussed several times on Pescanik.

With the constitutional amendments adopted in February 2022, and the Law on the high council of the judiciary and the high council of the prosecution adopted in February this year, the government, headed by the minister of justice, vowed that the PLEs would be professionals chosen by consensus (two-thirds majority) of the ruling majority and the opposition MPs, and that the committee will be asked to step in only as an exception. The government also managed to convince the Venice commission of this supposedly noble intention, so the commission in principle approved the idea of an alternative means of electing PLEs in the event of a parliamentary blockade. Nevertheless, in December 2022, the Venice commission concluded that there is more than one adequate and effective mechanism for unblocking an absence of a parliamentary majority, and referred Serbia to other possible solutions, such as use of the proportional voting method (par. 63 of the Opinion of the Venice commission of December 19, 2022).

It has long been clear to those better acquainted with the political situation in Serbia that the decision to require a two-thirds majority for the election of PLEs will prove to be impossible and practically hand this responsibility to the committee. With only three votes, it can tighten the knot around the neck of the judiciary even more. The committee will not, in fact, come into play only in extraordinary circumstances, but, as we can see on the current example, at the very first instance of an election of PLEs.

In the next 30 days, the committee will decide which seven candidates will become members of the High council of the judiciary and the High council of the prosecution. However, it does not end there. The committee will have to discuss all the candidates who applied and who meet the conditions for selection.2 There were 22 of them in total, so it will be extremely interesting to see if the five-member committee will choose one of the candidates who previously “passed the committee” and about whom the assembly had already voted, or whether they will choose someone who was not proposed by the members of the ruling majority in the assembly committee for justice, state administration and local self-government.

Finally, we ought to say something about Aleksandar Popovic, the candidate who got the support of two-thirds of the MPs in the national assembly. His CV is short and written with a limited understanding of the rules of the Serbian language. This prominent legal expert would certainly not pass the standard test of legal prominence, that is, he would not fulfil the conditions of notability and standing out among other lawyers. After all, this was confirmed by Popovic himself, who said in his presentation that his professional achievements are modest and that the greatest success of his career was getting one of his clients released from detention by giving a two-and-a-half-hour speech before the judge. Whether this is truth or a legend doesn’t matter, because this candidate is the only prominent legal expert who was deemed worthy by the national assembly, although those who applied included professors of law with years of experience.

All parties of the ruling majority voted for this candidate, along with the parliamentary group Zavetnici, NADA, independent MPs Dejan Bulatovic and Zika Gojkovic, as well as MP Vladimir Gajic of the People’s Party. Why they did this remains a mystery that only they can provide an answer to.

Our readers are probably familiar with the local saying about the management of public affairs: if you don’t want to do something, make a committee. In this particular case, what the legislative and executive authorities do not want to do is give up their firm control over decision-making in the judiciary. Their long arm will continue to rule the prosecution and the judiciary for at least another 5 years, through the five-member committee and elected PLEs without opinion or integrity. That this would be the outcome of the latest judicial reform was not particularly difficult to guess – indeed, it was predictable.

As we did not oppose it on time and speak up at the referendum on constitutional changes, we are now forced, for the umpteenth time, to live with the consequences of letting a small circle of people, in which a single political party has the decisive voice, make all serious social and state decisions.

Translated by Marijana Simic

Pešč, 17.05.2023.


  1. Candidates for the High council of the judiciary were Natasa Delic, Zikica Dronjak, Jelena Vuckovic, Nikola Bodiroga, Marina Grbic, Rastko Brajkovic, Aleksandar Popovic and Srdjan Stefanovic. Candidates for the High council of the prosecution were Dusan Puric, Miroslav Djordjevic, Predrag Cetkovic, Vesna Lukovic, Vladimir Simic, Nenad Tesic, Jelena Glusica and Bojan Petrovic.
  2. Article 151, point 5 of the Constitution and article 51, points 3 and 4 of the Law on high council of the judiciary.
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Sofija Mandić je rođena 1986. u Novom Sadu. Diplomirana je pravnica, posrednica u mirnom rešavanju sporova i aktivistkinja za ljudska prava. Radi u Centru za pravosudna istraživanja (CEPRIS), a prethodno je bila angažovana u Beogradskom centru za bezbednosnu politiku i Nacionalnom demokratskom institutu. Generalna je sekretarka Peščanika, sa kojim sarađuje od 2007, kao učesnica u radijskim emisijama, a zatim i kao autorka tekstova. Autorka, koautorka i urednica je brojnih analiza o vladavini prava, stanju ljudskih prava u Srbiji i njihovoj perspektivi. Neke od skorašnjih su: Izbori pred Upravnim sudom 2022 – pregled postupanja i odluka (ur. CEPRIS, 2022), Izveštaj o javnosti rada Visokog saveta sudstva i Državnog veća tužilaca (CEPRIS, 2022), Sloboda izražavanja pred sudom (ur. SĆF, 2021-2022), Rad sudova tokom epidemije zarazne bolesti COVID-19 (OEBS, 2021), Ljudska prava u Srbiji (BCLJP, 2018-2023), Naša urušena prava (FES, 2019), Uslovi za izbor i napredovanje sudija i tužilaca u pravnom obrazovanju (CEPRIS, 2018), Skorašnji Ustav Srbije – rodna perspektiva (ŽPRS, 2017). Kao predstavnica civilnog društva učestvovala je u procesu izrade komentara i mišljenja na izmene Ustava iz 2022, kao i zakona koji proizlaze iz ovih promena. Autorka je knjige „U krugu negacije, godine parlamentarnog (ne)suočavanja sa lošom prošlošću u Srbiji“ (2023).

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