A conference on “The role of judges and freedom of speech” was held on 27 September 2016 in Belgrade. The conference was organised jointly by the Judges’ Association of Serbia, the German Association of Judges and the IRZ. The event enabled the exchange of experiences across national borders between judges from Montenegro, as well as from Germany and Serbia.

In his opening speech, German ambassador Axel Dittmann pointed out the importance of the justice system and of an independent judiciary for preparing Serbia’s entry to the EU.

The President of the Judges’ Association of Serbia, Dragana Boljevic, also spoke at the well-attended conference. Other speakers were Andrea Titz, a judge at the higher regional court of Munich, and Elisabeth Kreth, a judge at the finance court of Hamburg, both of whom are members of the German Association of Judges. During the intense discussions following the presentations, issues concerning the ability of judges to give their opinions in public were discussed, as well as the media coverage of how they perform their duties and of the justice system as a whole.

One of the participating judges said that Germany and Serbia are like living in “two different worlds” For example, Serbian judges are not allowed to belong to political parties. Others also reported critical and even slanderous media reports on judges, which went as far as accusations of the judges concerned being on defendants’ payrolls, which would be completely unthinkable in this form in Germany.

It is precisely these contrasting situations, however, that show that gearing legal regulations and even standard practices towards the German model could make perfect sense for Serbia and other states in the region in order to resolve existing irregularities.

Since journalists also took part in this event, it was an occasion for direct discussions to take place between representatives of the justice system and the media, which is otherwise rare in the region.