More proactive cooperation between the countries of the region is a precondition for a more successful fight against organized crime, and mutual legal assistance will enable efficiency in complex criminal cases, which have a transnational element.
This was assessed at the round table “Regional Judicial Cooperation: Achievements and Future Perspectives”, organized by the Center for Democracy and Human Rights (CEDEM) on April 23 within the project “Strengthening Regional Judicial Cooperation through a Multisectoral Approach”, supported by the Konrad Foundation Adenauer, through the Rule of Law Program for Southeast Europe.
The roundtable presented a comprehensive publication, “Regional Judicial Cooperation in Criminal Matters: An Overview of Comparative Practices in the Western Balkans” by legal experts from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Northern Macedonia, Kosovo, Albania and Montenegro.
Director of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights (CEDEM), Milena Besic, said that effective international cooperation and mutual legal assistance is a prerequisite for fast and efficient procedures in complex criminal cases, especially when they have a transnational element.
“It is evident that criminal groups tend to take advantage of differences between the legal systems of different countries, taking advantage of the lack of effective coordination between different state services, and often the fact that some countries are not ready for a certain level of cooperation with other countries.” Besic.
She said that the publication provides an overview of the mechanisms of international judicial cooperation, in order to reduce the recorded risks.
Director General of the Directorate for International Judicial Cooperation and Projects in the Ministry of Justice of Montenegro, Nikola Sharanovic, pointed out that Montenegro recognized the importance of judicial cooperation for the rule of law and international relations even before the start of European integration.
“Activities in terms of strengthening bilateral cooperation continued with negotiations with the Republic of Kosovo on a package of judicial cooperation agreements, and a similar package was offered to Albania, which would complete Montenegro’s bilateral agreement with the Western Balkans,” said Sharanovic.
He said that the representatives of Montenegrin institutions are members of all relevant bodies of the Council of Europe and the United Nations, and that Montenegrin institutions, as he stated, have acquired the status of observers in all European judicial networks.
“Montenegrin representatives are active observers of work, which is of key importance for the preparation of our judicial institutions, for full cooperation in the European area of justice, freedom and security,” Sharanovic pointed out.
He said it was necessary to establish and improve judicial co-operation in the Western Balkans, before EU membership.
“While EU member states hand over their own citizens to each other without much formality and on the basis of the principle of mutual recognition of decisions, the extradition of their own citizens among all Western Balkan countries is not imminent. It is a devastating fact that there are regional organized criminal groups, and that there are no joint investigation teams between the countries of the Western Balkans, “said Sharanovic.
The head of the Rule of Law Program for Southeast Europe at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS), Hartmut Rank, said that regional cooperation in criminal matters is crucial in order to close the gap between the countries of the region and the EU.
“There are shortcomings in every country, and the young EU countries, which have become members in recent years, have optimized their laws in the field of economy and administration. “Many processes involved more than one state, and the effectiveness of legal cases depends on what information is transferred outside the state borders from the authorities of one state to another,” Rank said.
National Legal Adviser on the project “IPA 2017 Fight against Serious Crime in the Western Balkans” from Montenegro, Milorad Markovic, MA, during the presentation of the publication “Regional Judicial Cooperation in Criminal Matters: Review of Comparative Practices of the Western Balkans”, said that the EU accession process significant contribution to raising the level of quality of legislation and standards in the field of regional judicial cooperation.
“The process of joining the EU has a reflection on national legislation, raising the quality and standards in the part of the legal basis for judicial cooperation with the countries of the region,” Markovic said.
He pointed out that more proactive cooperation in the region is a precondition for a more successful fight against organized crime.
“Direct bilateral cooperation between the countries of the region is key and bilateral agreements that have been signed or are still in the process are a reflection of trust between the countries and give greater strength and readiness to state judicial bodies to enter into judicial cooperation with countries in the region.” That trust is the basis of modern judicial cooperation of the EU “, said Markovic.
He stated that Montenegro has a leading position in the region, in terms of the number of letters rogatory.
“In the area of regional judicial cooperation, Montenegro executes requests more expeditiously and faster, compared to other countries in the region. “Montenegro sends and sends many more requests to the countries of the region than it receives, but on the other hand, all requests that arrive from the region are executed faster in percentage terms than requests sent by our country to the region,” Markovic said.
He pointed out that the activity of the judicial bodies of Montenegro is at an increasing level, and that their activities are increasingly focused on regional cooperation.
“We are increasingly approaching judicial cooperation, and not in a formal sense, and not only in that part of judicial cooperation that needs to follow what has already been realized through investigations.” When we talk about organized crime, it is very important that our prosecutor’s office is not focused only on the national level. “Regional cooperation is a direction and an opportunity,” Markovic said.
Mandrit Kamoli, a project assistant at the National Democratic Institute in Albania, said regional judicial co-operation was important in the fight against organized crime and said it was a way to prevent organized crime groups from operating.
“Europol’s estimate for 2018 is that seven out of ten organized criminal groups operate in more than three European countries. “The interruption of these organized networks should be at the regional level, as well as at the international level,” Kamoli said.
He assessed that Albania should strengthen the independence and efficiency of its institutions, in order to better fight organized crime.
“Procedures for judicial cooperation at both the regional and international levels are taking a long time. Albania needs to strengthen the independence, efficiency and accountability of institutions, especially the Ministry of Justice, in order to be more effective and modern in their work. That will reflect on regional cooperation, but also on the international level “, said Kamoli.
Advisor to Lucid Linx from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Adnan Kadribasic, said that Bosnia and Herzegovina has one of the most complex legal systems in the region and the world, but that the area of international cooperation in criminal matters, as he explained, is regulated by only one law.
“It is specific that this law derogates itself, ie gives precedence to international standards, and it is applied to international criminal matters only in cases when there is no international legal standard,” Kadribasic said.
He said that the law stipulates that international cooperation in criminal matters is realized through Eurojust and Interpol.
The executive director of the Open Society Foundation from Serbia, Milan Antonijevic, assessed that Serbia lacks better cooperation between the prosecutor’s offices for organized crime and the prosecutor’s offices of other Western Balkan countries, especially in the part related to war crimes.
“The War Crimes Prosecutor’s Office must find ways to cooperate if we want to unblock the processes that are not working at the moment.” “Political issues concerning Kosovo must be resolved, so that the cooperation between the prosecutor’s office of Serbia and Kosovo can be established in a clear way,” Antonijevic said.
The project coordinator in the Association of Macedonian Young Lawyers from Northern Macedonia, Irena Zdravkova, said that it was necessary to conduct direct cooperation between the courts of the Western Balkan countries, in order to achieve more efficient regional judicial cooperation.
“Macedonia, like the rest of the region, has harmonized its national legal framework with the international one, but we still have the ratification of certain conventions, in order to harmonize the legislation related to international judicial cooperation.” It is recommended that this cooperation be carried out in a more efficient and faster way, which implies direct cooperation between the courts of the region, “said Zdravkova.