On the occasion of the European Day of Justice which is being marked on 25 October, the Ministry of Justice invited the courts to organise a Mediation Week and Open Court Days to demonstrate to businesses and citizens how mediation provides a quicker, cheaper and more effective alternative to litigation. Beside two courts which have answered the call and taken measures within the Mediation Week (Second Basic Court in Belgrade and Basic Court in Kruševac), this year’s Mediation Week will also be marked by the signing of Protocol on Cooperation of Promotion of Intellectual Property Mediation, between the Serbian Intellectual Property Office, Ministry of Justice and all courts with jurisdiction in intellectual property disputes.
Improvement of alternative dispute resolution, such as mediation, benefits not only individuals but frees up the court time for cases that truly require full judicial analysis, thus makes a positive impact on the overall judicial efficiency and access to justice.
To enhance the legal framework in the area of mediation in accordance with the EU acquis and with best international, contemporary and comparative practices, the Minister of Justice has established the Legislative Working Group for drafting of amendments to the Law on Mediation in Dispute Resolution. As the new Law is expected to significantly induce mediation demand through various mechanisms, its provisions will also ensure adequate quality standards in order to create a sustainable system.
Another recent incentive for the parties to use mediation instead of court proceeding is set in the Law on Amendments and Supplements to the Law on Court Fees, applicable from 1 January 2019. The amendments postpone the collection of court fees in order to leave the parties the opportunity to again consider the amicable resolution of the dispute, once the court proceedings have been initiated. The data from commercial, basic and higher courts show that in the first nine months of the implementation of this Law, nearly 3000 cases were settled before the conclusion of the preliminary hearing or the first hearing, while over 12 000 cases were resolved in various ways indicating they resulted from the settlements.
Important steps are also being taken at the international level. The Republic of Serbia was among first 46 countries that, on 7 August 2019, signed the United Nations Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation (‘Singapore Convention’). The Singapore Convention applies to international settlement agreements resolving a commercial dispute. ‘It is expected that with the ratification of the Convention by a wide range of countries, the parties from different jurisdictions will be encouraged to use mediation more often and to work out win-win solutions to their disputes, therefore making a positive impact on international trade and commerce. In that respect, the stance of the European Union and its Member States is of great importance for Serbia as an accession negotiation country not only because of legal implications related to potential ratification, but also having in mind the importance of trade and commercial relations with companies from the EU Single Market, which would certainly likewise gain from enhanced possibilities of enforcement of settlement agreements which the Singapore Convention and UNCITRAL Model Law framework affords’, stresses Ivana Ninčić Österle, Expert on Analytical Support for Judicial Professions, EU for Justice – Support for Chapter 23 project.
As for the current capacities, by end of September over 1100 mediators have been registered, 16 organizations received licenses for conducting training for mediators while to date 12 organisations conducted the training with the total number of training participants being over 2 600. Most of the registered mediators come from the city of Belgrade, while the highest number from the ranks of lawyers.
In the end, the implementation of the measures taken and a true success of mediation depend on its wide acceptance by legal and other professions, the business community and the public at large. Thus it is important that all concerned enhance their understanding of mediation and its advantages.
The promotion of mediation is also supported by the European Union through various programmes funded in the country, having in mind activities within the Action Plan for Negotiating Chapter 23 and the benchmark set for achieving European Union standards in the area of justice.