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East: Judiciary In Former Communist Bloc Lagging Behind Market Reforms

The World Bank is worried about the state of judiciary in the former Soviet bloc A new report from the World Bank finds that judicial reform remains slow and incomplete throughout the former communist region of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. A review of 27 countries in the region finds that poorly performing legal systems have created deep frustration among citizens and entrepreneurs. Even in countries with judicial independence, the study found, there is a lack of accountability and efficiency.

Washington, 21 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The World Bank says there has been less progress in judicial reform than in almost any other sector in transition countries since 1990.

In a report released on 20 June, the bank finds a familiar pattern through most of the region of formerly communist states.

A number of states, especially those accepted into the European Union, have created a legislative basis for a sound legal system. But implementation of court decisions has been weak and uneven, said Cheryl Gray, one of the authors of the bank’s report.

“The emphasis in the early transition was very much on law writing, on writing the laws you needed for a market economy, on writing a new first constitution, writing a new civil code, a new commercial code, new bankruptcy laws, and passing these laws through," Gray said. "And certainly the donors, including the World Bank, were some of the parties that were pressing for new laws to be passed, and that can be done fairly quickly. But then you have these institutions that are not ready to enforce these laws.”

The report draws on surveys of thousands of lawyers, entrepreneurs, and citizens conducted mostly during the past three years by international organizations in a region including all of the former Soviet Union, except Turkmenistan, and all of Eastern and Central Europe.
"Certainly donors, including the World Bank, were some of the parties that were pressing for new laws to be passed, and that can be done fairly quickly. But then you have these institutions that are not ready to enforce these laws.”

The organizations include the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), and the American Bar Association’s Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative.

Regionwide, the report says, more work is needed to create courts that are cheaper, quicker, fair, and honest.

To cite one problem, the report says many transition states are still incapable of publishing and maintaining trial records.

Gray, the report co-author, is director of the bank’s poverty reduction and economic management department in the region. She told RFE/RL that record keeping, publishing court decisions, and judicial oversight are key accountability measures that have been neglected for too long.

“To have independence without accountability is extremely dangerous," Gray said. "Giving independence to unaccountable institutions is almost worse than no independence at all, and it’s very hard to build the institutions for accountability. So, while you had independence in the early years, accountability and efficiency both were the things that got less attention.”

Gray said it is difficult to quantify the economic impact of slow judicial reforms. But the findings from various surveys indicate that citizens are business leaders are deeply skeptical.

The report cites one survey saying just one-fourth of managers thought courts were fair or honest. That percentage dropped even lower with courts in Albania, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, and Russia. Generally, citizens’ views of the courts have worsened since the mid-1990s.

A survey of lawyers in the region found that in most transition countries it took more than 200 days to collect on an unsecured debt in 2004. In Serbia and Montenegro, it took nearly three years.

There was an especially strong link between the extent of economic reforms and the frustrated demand for judicial services. Some of the worst ratings were given to Balkan states, which are moving forward with economic reforms but, according to Gray, have struggled to keep pace in restructuring their judiciaries.

“The worst is like Romania, Bulgaria -- Southeast Europe -- where there’s been enough reforms, where the citizens and the firms really have a lot of reasons that they want to use the courts, and they have a lot of demands on the courts, and they take a lot of cases to courts, but the courts themselves haven’t developed the capacity to deal with them," Gray said. "So there’s tremendous frustration. That comes through here.”

The report’s emphasis on business-related surveys appears to downplay frustration in Central Asian countries over lagging judicial reforms.

For example, it says countries with the lowest demand for judicial reforms included Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan. But there have been steady calls for political reforms, including an independent judiciary, throughout the region.

(The full report is available at