Goran Draganić, Lawyer: An independent judiciary is the foundation of a strong state

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In order to have the rule of law, you must not only have institutions and adopted laws, rather you must have unconditional and uncompromising application and respect for those laws, as well as independent and effective judicial protection, as the most important corrector of respect for the legality and safety of citizens.

“My many years of professional experience, as well as my maturity, has progressed from the early 1990s to the present day. That period included very difficult and challenging phases and periods that we went through as a state and a society, but also as individuals,” says Goran Draganić, a lawyer who this year celebrates 25 years of working in the legal domain, and who during his career has represented numerous companies, media houses and journalists, as well as the most distinguished personalities from the public, culture, politics and sporting scenes of Serbia.

What did the legal system of Serbia and the Serbian judiciary look like when you first started your career, 25 years ago?

They were in very bad condition. The nineties, wars, unprecedented inflation, election theft, abuse of the judiciary in the creation of election results and citizens’ protests were what composed the Serbia of that time.

Expectations during the nineties, with the then heightened hope that Serbia would prove victorious and move in the direction of fundamental changes and building the serious rule of law, unfortunately ended up only with attempts. All political setups, from the late nineties to this day, address only the form of satisfying political criteria through the creation of proclamations in the political sense about the rule of law, and not the essential serious construction and functioning of institutions through the implementation of laws and effective judicial protection.

We faced a failed attempt to reform the judiciary, which was destined for a bad finish from the start. The reason is simple – we still have not cleared up the fact that political criteria in the selection of judicial functions should not be the sole and primary condition, thus implementing successful and objective reforms is prevented.

In order to have the rule of law, you must not only have institutions and adopted laws, rather you must have unconditional and uncompromising application and respect for those laws, as well as independent and effective judicial protection, as the most important corrector of respect for the legality and safety of citizens. All previous executive governments that have been changed have not grasped at all that a strong and, in the true sense, independent judiciary is the foundation of any strong and prosperous country, a reflection of every democracy. We are faced with the permanent presence of the political defining of a desirable and servile judiciary.

Which of the EU accession chapters are very important for Serbia when it comes to the judiciary and what will represent the opening and closing of these chapters for Serbia?

Without diminishing the importance and significance of other chapters that Serbia must fulfil en route to the EU, of incalculable importance to Serbia at this moment are chapters 7, 23 and 24, as well as closing them. These chapters represent the most important test for the state to date.

I consider that chapters 23 and 24, which relate to the judiciary, human rights, freedom of movement and security, are perhaps the most important and most crucial for Serbia’s EU accession.

Their fulfilment is conditioned by the real situation and the results of judicial operations and the rule of law, and not political proclamations, beautification and demagogy.

Also pointing to the importance of these issues is the fact that failure to achieve serious progress on these chapters can cause a problem in terms of halting negotiations on other chapters.

A strong, stable and efficient judicial system is not only a guarantee of legal certainty for the citizens of Serbia, but rather also a guarantee of faster investments for foreign investors, their certainty that their investments and operations in Serbia will be under serious legal control and oversight of government institutions and effective court protection.

There is a lot of talk about the protection of intellectual property rights in Serbia. How far have we advanced in this field and which chapters relate to this domain?

Chapter 7 relates to intellectual property. That is a very important chapter. It is enough to say intellectual property and to know that this relates to the protection of sense, knowledge and skills.

The state must realise that investing in the protection of intellectual property actually means protecting minds, which encourages young people to create new ideas and gives them an incentive not to leave the country. This enables the creation of new jobs and the creation of a new working environment, and with that an increased budget. These are all general social benefits of the serious protection of and respect for intellectual property rights.

It is indisputable that Serbia has started harmonising domestic legislation with the EU acquis; that it is a signatory of the most important international agreements in the field of industrial property, copyright and related rights. Likewise, Serbia also cooperates with the most important international institutions, WIPO. Protecting intellectual property rights is extremely important for us when it comes to joining the EU and WTO.

However, all of that is not enough! It is extremely important to continue to promote the strategy for the development of intellectual property. It is necessary to strengthen education, while what is most important is to raise social awareness of the importance of protecting intellectual property.

One of the most important goals in promoting the strategy of intellectual property is the fight against piracy. The fight against piracy is not just the responsibility of a single institution. It must include the coordinating of all state bodies, customs, police, prosecution, inspectorates, the Intellectual Property Office and the courts, but also the holder of property rights, the publisher. The main goal of the EU in the field of intellectual property is to create an environment in which the holders of intellectual property rights will be able to freely protect their products and services from unauthorised use, copying and abuse. In order for Serbia to achieve the level of reduced piracy it is necessary to have political will in coordination between the public and private sectors.

As for the current state of affairs with intellectual property rights in Serbia, we have opened the chapter on compliance with the conditions for implementing and protecting intellectual property rights, and we have political proclamations that Serbia will do everything necessary to create an atmosphere of protection for intellectual property.

What we are awaiting, but which is unfortunately not in sight nor even planned, is for Serbia – in such a desired atmosphere – to gain a specialised court for intellectual property.

Today we have a situation in which, in the context of the High Court, there exist only separate departments of judges that deal with authorship disputes and disputes related to trademark infringements, but also disputes concerning marital and familial relations. That’s not good! If we want serious enforcement and judicial protection, we must create a specialised court for the protection of intellectual property as soon as possible, an IP Court, the kind that already exists in all developed countries of Europe and the world.

What more can be done in order for us to have a functional, stable and modern judicial system in Serbia?

In the end, the interests of the state of Serbia and Serbian citizens are recognised in the meeting of all conditions and the closing of all chapters. We can only achieve serious rule of rule if we manage to prevent political influence on the selection and work of judicial bodies, with the mandatory selection of the best, highest quality and boldest judges and prosecutors.

It is also extremely important to invest in judges via specialisation and exchanges of experience in international, especially European, frameworks. Moreover, it is essential to create conditions in which judicial officials will feel financial security, which would provide them with an unrestricted and independent position in the country. A state that succeeded in creating these kinds of principles of functioning of the judicial system would also finally succeed in enabling judges and prosecutors to hold a position in which they represented basic bastions in the protection of the state and society.

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