BLOG Legal Angle
Written by Luka Jovanović
attorney-at-law and FSD Program Director
LAWYERS IN SUSPENSION
We have previously discussed some of the reasons due to which the lawyers of the Belgrade Bar Association (and Sabac as of yesterday) decided to suspend their services. Their objections to the Amendments to the Civil Procedure Act (CPA) as well as to the “updates” to the legal stance of Serbia’s Supreme Court of Cassation (SCC) that were made on September 16th, 2021. were the key issues that galvanized the lawyer’s protests which have been going on for over six months.
However, what is not being talked about at this time, but must be addressed, is how did we reach a situation in which regional bar associations decided to, of their own accord, go into work suspension heedless of the opinion of the Serbian Bar Association?!
Why is this schism significant for the achievement of the suspension’s goals and for the legal profession itself?
How can it impact the future of bar associations as professional organizations?
Relations between the central and regional bars were often permeated with disagreements surrounding certain questions of import for the functioning of the legal profession in Serbia. The protests over the Amendments to the CPA and the legal stance of Serbia’s SCC demonstrated how wide the gap is between them on those issues and have also outlined other significant conceptual disagreements on how to approach the problems that these acts represent.
That gap has, on November 6th, 2021, turned into a seemingly insurmountable abyss. The historic decision of the Assembly of the Serbian Bar Association (SBA) (which we have previously commented here) to for the first time in the history of the legal profession in Serbia ignore the recommendations of the Lawyers Conference of Serbia, which called for a complete suspension of work of all the bar associations in the country, cemented the view of some of the regional bar associations within the SBA that the Serbian Bar Association and it’s newly elected leaders are unwilling or unfit to protect the professional interests of the bar associations represented within it.
What does all this, in practice, mean for the achievement of the goals of the suspension (or, more aptly, suspensions)?
After the Assembly of the Belgrade Bar Association, at an emergency session, passed the decision to go into suspension, it is now certain that, now that the biggest bar association within SBA has made the call, other regional bar associations dissatisfied with the events that took place on November 6th will follow suit. After Sabac, maybe the Bar Association of Zajecar before the year is over, and in the first half of January 2022, the question of joining the Belgrade suspension could well be posed in the bars of Kragujevac and Nis.
This would lead to a slew of new unpleasant questions for the leadership of the Serbian Bar Association:
If over half of all lawyers in Serbia are in suspension which the SBA has explicitly opposed (and who’s proclamations it is also trying to thwart in the remaining regional bar associations!) the question that arises is whether it still represents the Serbian legal profession in this matter?
Can the government even try to negotiate a deal with said leadership that could lead to halting the suspension?
If the SBA leadership’s official position on the suspension remains unchanged, how can one escape the notion that, when it comes to the issue of this suspension and its demands, the SBA’s newly elected leadership and the Serbian government are on the same side of the negotiating table?
The present situation is without a doubt the result of deep divides within the legal profession. Which are themselves, a reflection of just as deep, maybe even more so, divides in society itself. It masterfully sums up all the problems that exist in relations between the central and regional bar associations that have been piling up for years. It, probably above all other things, represents the most vocal questioning of attempts to control professional associations with over eleven thousand members with an iron grip from a single center at the very top.
Whether the regional bar associations will succeed in achieving their goals remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, maybe the most important battle that lawyers and regional bar associations are waging right now, whose outcome is just as uncertain, isn’t even publicly stated as one of the suspension’s goals! The battle in question pertains to the democratization of the decision-making process in the SBA itself, achievement of full transparency in the work of its bodies, and to in practice realize the principle of accountability of representatives to those they represent.
This is a battle, which, I believe, that citizens of Serbia, taught by their own life experience, understand all too well. Its outcome should, because of the important decisions ahead of them in 2022, be of greatest interest to them in particular.
This story has, in the final hours of 2021, taken an unexpected turn.
Namely, The High court in Belgrade, in a case regarding the lawsuit which seeks to void the decision of the Assembly of the Belgrade Bar Association to engage in a suspension of work, issued an interim measure under which the Assembly's decision is put out of effect until the case before the court is concluded.
What will the effects of this decision by the court be and what consequences will it have for the legal profession in Serbia remains to be seen in the coming days.