Pristina, 24 March 2020 – Kosovo Law Institute (KLI), with the support of the US Department of State – International Narcotics Bureau and Law Enforcement Matters (INL) and NED published the report: “Justice in second instance: Report from systematic monitoring of the Court of Appeals”.
The special focus of treatment in this report is on corruption cases dealt with in the Court of Appeal. In this regard, KLI’s findings show that, as in previous years, as well as 2018 and 2019, Kosovo has closed without even a senior official behind bars because of corruption, irrespective that according to the majority of measurements, Kosovo continues to rank as one of the most corrupt countries in Europe. In international reports, corruption in Kosovo is described as endemic, Kosovo as a captured state, while the justice system is readily influenced by politics.
The lack of fight against corruption, especially high profile corruption, is also best reflected in the reports that KLI has published regularly, especially during 2018 and 2019. As a second instance court whose judgments are enforceable, the Court of Appeal in 2018 and 2019, has not had any final judgements for high profile officials accused of corruption.
KLI’s findings show that two high-profile officials who were convicted by the first instance courts for corruption, the Court of Appeal had decided to acquit them and the same were announced as not guilty, whereas in four other cases, the Appeal quashed the conviction verdicts of the first instance courts against senior public officials accused of corruption and remitted the cases for retrial.
Contrary to this, or the reversal of the first instance acquittal verdicts, or the return to retrial of cases where senior public officials were acquitted from first instance, the Court of Appeal had not done this in the past two years.
From a temporal point of view, the corruption cases in the CA do not wait long to be resolved, except for one case, such as the “MTPT” case, which had waited more than a year for appeals to be reviewed.
CA, during 2018 had at work a total of 125 corruption cases. Of them, until the end of the year, this court managed to complete 107 of those cases, or 85.6% of cases that it had at work. Whereas, during 2019, the Court of Appeal had at work a total of 107 corruption cases, of which it resolved 88, or 82.24% of cases of this nature that it had at work.
Viewed in aggregate according to case statistics, the years 2018 and 2019 had been successful for the Court of Appeals, as it is noted that there is a steady increase in the number of cases being completed by this court.
However, to what extent the large number of cases resolved has affected the quality of decisions rendered by the Court of Appeal, was best encapsulated in the statement made by the President of the Court of Appeals, Hasan Shala in January 2019, during the presentation of the annual report on the court he leads, where he admitted, among other things, that more attention was paid to statistics than quality.
The lack of quality of decisions of the Court of Appeals, especially in corruption cases can be seen in the decisions rendered by the Supreme Court during this time, which in some cases, including high profile cases, found violations in favour of the defendants made by the Court of Appeal and the Basic Courts. The Supreme Court had thus ruled in the case of former Mayor of Obiliq, Mehmet Krasniqi, former Deputy Prime Minister Dalibor Jevtic, former President of the Court of Appeal, Salih Mekaj and in the case of “Sekseri” where the accused was Emin Beqiri.
Unable to legally overturn these Appeal Judgments, the Supreme Court only found the violations committed by the lower instances of the judiciary, while the defendants had benefited by finally being acquitted of the charges that were weighed on them.
Also, despite the criticism that the head of the Appeal, Hasan Shala, had regarding the punitive policy for corruption cases, according to KLI’s monitoring, it appears that the Court of Appeal, although within its powers may also toughen the punishments of the first instance when such cases come to the Court of Appeals, sucha thing was only done in one corruption cases during 2018, whereas in 2019 was done in only two cases. In this way, the CA’s stakeholders had criticized punitive policy, but did not address it.
Fighting corruption is and continues to be a requirement of the European Union for visa liberalisation and for this reason, from the State Prosecutors Office side; hundreds of cases are targeted (track record) for this process. Regarding such cases, the president of the Court of Appeals, Hasan Shala, stated that all track record cases are resolved by the Court of Appeal. However, such a statement made by Shala, according to KLI findings turns out not to be true. This is because, in an official response that KLI received from the Court of Appeal on 24 January 2019, or 14 days after the aforementioned conference, it appears that this court has been operating five visa-targeted cases even though President Shala had said that all such cases were completed by the Appeal.
The Court of Appeal, pursuant to the authority it has, can quash decisions rendered by the first instance and can return cases for retrial. Such decisions, meaning cases returned for retrial, the Court of Appeals decided on approximately 20% of corruption cases in 2018.
In 2019, the percentage of cases that were sent for retrial showed an increase, approximately 29% of corruption cases were completed during 2019 were sent for retrial by the Court of Appeal. Some of these cases were sent for retrial twice or three times, which in at least one high-profile case even led to the criminal offense reaching statutory of limitations.
The full functioning of the Court of Appeals-Mitrovica Division during 2018, established under the Brussels Agreement, was called a success story by the President of the Appeal, Hasan Shala, when the latter presented the Appeal’s work in 2018. However, this division consisting of seven judges, according to cases conducted over the past two years, it appears that it does not even closely resemble a success story.
Also, a somewhat ridiculous problem found by KLI is the spelling of some of the Court of Appeal’s judgments, in which spelling errors are noted, such as the lack of use of the letters “ë” and “ç”, then not using punctuation marks until the error of different dates or even the names of the parties to the proceedings. KLI raises this concern because these errors often render these judgments incomprehensible. Moreover, KLI finds that some of the judgments of the CA is the lack of sufficient reasoning on the decision taken.
For more information please find attached the report:“Justice in second instance: Report from systematic monitoring of the Court of Appeals”.