Grafik: IRZ
Grafik: IRZ

On 9 April 2020, the first online discussions were held for German-speaking IRZ alumni on the subject of “Coronavirus and the Law”. The participants, who joined the discussions from Belgrade, Berlin, Bonn and Sarajevo, started by setting out the areas of the law where changes have already taken place as a reaction to the coronavirus.

Joining the online workshop from Berlin and Bonn, for example, were a Bosnian scholarship student from the German Bundestag (International Parliament Scholarship) and a Serbian Master’s student at the University of Bonn. Another participant currently studying in Belgrade has already been granted a scholarship for the next master’s course in German law in Bonn.

Before compiling the areas of the law subject to change as a result of the coronavirus, the participants in the online workshop started with a comparative analysis to establish that state interventions in the West Balkan countries go much further than in Germany. The wide variety of possible reasons cited for this included: The generally more authoritarian way of dealing with citizens in these countries, the poorer state of the health system and the proximity to Italy, giving rise to concerns that the scenario in Italy could be repeated in their own countries.

The series of events beginning with this online workshop will analyse and compare the situation in individual areas of the law. This process began by looking at procedural law, with some drastic changes to the legislative process in the West Balkans over the past few weeks. In Serbia, for example, the “regulation on the way defendants are involved in main criminal proceedings held during the state of emergency declared on 15 March”(Law Journal of the Republic of Serbia number 49/2020) states that defendants will only take part in the trial against them by video conference. According to press reports, some defendants whose court cases have already taken place in this way have in some cases been sentenced to severe terms of imprisonment.

The participants in the workshop commented critically on provisions such as these. They are worried that future civil proceedings for small claims could take place online, especially since the way citizens communicate is increasingly adjusting in line with technology. As far as the questioning of witnesses and defendants is concerned, the consensus here was that there should be no deviation from the basic principle of the immediacy of the main trial. If, for example, communication takes place exclusively online, there could be problems arising from the lack of opportunity for the court to take body language into account during a statement.

The online workshops currently underway will help to prepare for the annual IRZ alumni workshop in Belgrade, where participants will be able to refresh their knowledge of German law and take the opportunity to discuss legal issues in German.

These workshops for German-speaking students are part of a long-running series of IRZ events, in which participants can gain key qualifications for legal transactions between their home countries and Germany and for European integration.