Serbia: Judges Afraid To Grant Bail

Serbian judges rarely grant bail due to fear of being perceived as corrupt by the public, the Center for Investigative Journalism in Serbia (CINS), an OCCRP member, reports. These findings are based on records from Belgrade courts and interviews with judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys.

“When someone is released on bail, the media portrays this as an acquittal,” an appellate judge Miodrag Majic told CINS. “An atmosphere is created in which putting someone in custody is a necessary element, especially in high profile cases. This is entirely wrong. Custody has a completely different purpose, and we must remember that people who are placed in custody are at this point still considered innocent.”

Majic also added that “It is the opinion of all of us who participate in court proceedings, as well as those of us who worked on drafting the new Criminal Procedure Law that bail should be granted more often.”

Attorney Bozo Prelevic agrees. “When you look at the statistics about how many people who were released on bail are out of the reach of the law, you see that there are only a few cases. I believe it is less than 5 or 6 percent of cases. Thus, I see no reason for courts to deny bail, and yet they are very reluctant to grant it.”

Another reason why bail is rarely granted is that most of the crimes tried in Serbia are lesser offences committed by people who cannot afford bail, the president of the Prosecutors’ Association of Serbia Radovan Lazic told CINS. These people have no choice but to go to jail, which leads to overcrowding and poor conditions in correctional facilities.

Prelevic believes that the coming elections in the judiciary place additional pressure on judges. The media hype surrounding high profile cases discourages judges from releasing people on bail, he adds.

Additionally, criteria on granting bail are unclear, leading to inconsistencies in the application of the law. Clearly defined rules on bail and their consistent application to all cases would make it easier for judges to defend these decisions, says Prelevic.