Serbian Courts Make Their Case for Increased Funding

Building financial independence and budget advocacy leads to increased funding for Serbian courts
USAID provides training on new online budgeting tools for Kragujevac appellate courts.
USAID Separation of Powers Program
Judiciary gains independence as it wins bigger budget
“This new method of work places the courts in Serbia among the court systems of developed countries."

Serbian courts and the High Court Council, in their previous forms, never negotiated their own budgets and financial requirements directly with the Ministry of Finance. Instead, their negotiations were conducted by the Ministry of Justice, leading to financial dependence on the executive branch. Without the ability to plan, acquire and allocate finances, the judicial branch could not be truly independent from the executive branch, even though the constitutional separation of powers grants independence to the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government.

The High Court Council, which regulates and manages the work of all courts, is the highest body within the judiciary.

One of the objectives of the USAID Separation of Powers Program is to help the judiciary create a more independent budget process and acquire greater control over funding. USAID worked with the High Court Council, providing both equipment and training to develop its budgeting and financial management capacity. This work led directly to an increase of about $20 million (1.5 billion dinars) for the courts in the 2014 budget compared to the 2013 budget.

USAID provided the High Court Council and the courts with automated budget tools, including a court profile database and a status of funds report. These tools improved the budgeting process by allowing the Council to collect and consolidate information directly from the courts, and to use a needs-based approach in the 2013 budget development cycle. The ability to present specific information about court needs enabled the Council to make its case for additional funds on behalf of all Serbian courts with the Ministry of Finance. 

Branka Tomaševic, assistant secretary of the High Court Council, explained the significance of these changes: “This new method of work places the courts in Serbia among the court systems of developed countries. We are convinced that these novelties in judicial budget planning will contribute to the better financial status of Serbian courts in the future.”

In the 2014 budget, operational expenses for the courts were raised from about $3.5 million (300 million dinars) to approximately $15.3 million (1.3 billion dinars). The funds will be allocated for the operational expenses of each court, which include crucial services such as defense counsel, court interpreters and expert witnesses.

For the first time, the judicial branch took an active role in the budget advocacy process. The result was a great success, which is especially noteworthy since other government programs suffered cuts.

The five-year Separation of Powers Program was launched in 2008 to help Serbia move closer to European Union accession by strengthening the judicial and legislative branches of government.