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New universal court system in Belarus as from 1 January

MINSK, 19 November (BelTA) – A new system of universal jurisdiction courts has to start working in Belarus as from 1 January 2014. Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko gave the instruction at the government session held on 19 November to discuss the improvement of the operation of courts and judicial bodies, the press service of the head of state told BelTA.

The President pointed out that the reform is not about handing over the authority from one kind of judicial bodies to another kind or about mindlessly borrowing ideas from neighboring countries. The reform has to secure better performance. Alexander Lukashenko believes the new system has to embody the best practices accumulated by general jurisdiction courts and economic courts.

Alexander Lukashenko said that in line with his instruction a group led by Deputy Head of the Belarus President Administration Valery Mitskevich had been set up. The group and interested government agencies had discussed possible ways to improve the court system and had come up with fundamental proposals.

In particular, the group suggests a universal system of general jurisdiction courts that will combine general and economic courts under the leadership of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court will take care of the organizational, material, and personnel aspects of the operation of Belarusian courts.

Deputy Head of the Belarus President Administration Valery Mitskevich said that the proposals had been discussed with all the interested bodies. Three relevant draft decrees had been prepared. The official assured that the changes will be within limits of the existing personnel numbers and will not entail additional budget spending. The reform will also try to keep up the performance of economic judicature. It will create prerequisites to improve court operation and the penetration of information technologies as part of the universal court system.

A universal supreme court will be created to deal with civil cases, criminal cases, administrative cases, and economic cases as the Supreme Court gets merged with the Supreme Economic Court. Valery Mitskevich believes the move will secure the uniform interpretation and application of the substantial law by all kinds of courts. It will ease the access to justice for citizens and organizations. Courts will no longer be able to reject cases saying that another kind of courts has to deal with the case.

According to the official, the reform will allow the new system to embody the best practices and the most advanced achievements of general courts and economic courts. The introduction of information technologies will be accelerated. The united court system will bring about new performance standards.

Valery Mitskevich said that the general courts and the economic courts can be merged without having to amend the Constitution first. The Constitution will have to be corrected later to no longer mention the Supreme Economic Court. The corrections will have to be introduced through a national referendum.

There is another issue that has to be addressed to improve the performance of Belarusian courts. At present different approaches to handling organizational, material, technical and personnel aspects are used by general courts and economic courts. While economic courts are left to deal with these matters on their own, the Justice Ministry takes care of general courts at the oblast level and the district level. It is suggested that the Supreme Court may take over the relevant authority from the Justice Ministry. The change will clearly delineate powers of the Supreme Court and the Justice Ministry while ruling out parallel operation and the erosion of the competence of these bodies. The responsibility of court heads of all levels for recruiting personnel and the performance of the personnel will greatly increase. Representatives of non-judicial government agencies and legal scholars can be included into personnel review boards for the sake of unbiased assessment of the performance of Belarusian judges.

Summing up results of the session, Alexander Lukashenko underlined that a universal court system has to start working in Belarus as from 1 January since there are no special hindrances that prevent its deployment.

According to the Belarus President, the decision to create a new powerful universal court system had been discussed for a long time. “While trying to improve, including the court system, in the past, we were talking about the form, now we are talking about the essence, the content of the system,” said Alexander Lukashenko.

“The Supreme Economic Court, the Supreme Court, and other courts have matured as part of the system. Now we can say they are fit for evolving into this powerful national court system,” said the President.

“Belarus is a compact country. It doesn’t need several agencies taking care of the same field. We can use one center to operate this system, making decisions. We will understand that logically and in essence we follow the same line, the same direction, there will be no differences of opinion in making decisions,” noted the head of state.

Alexander Lukashenko gave instructions to get the draft decrees ready by 1 December.