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Convicts Freed, Judges Rebuked

From 2018 to 2024, eighteen judges have been penalized due to negligence in their work, which led to the statute of limitations on the enforcement of judgments and the conduct of criminal proceedings in a total of 27 cases. They received warnings and fines of around BAM 20,000.
Illustration: Željko Todorović (CIN)

The judge of the Municipal Court in Velika Kladuša, Ekrem Šarić, is facing a disciplinary complaint for negligence in his work, which resulted in the convicted Arif Dizdarević not serving a three-month prison sentence. Dizdarević was convicted in 2012 for forging a document, but he did not go to prison because the statute of limitations for enforcement of the court verdict had expired.

The criminal codes in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) set a timeframe of 3 to 40 years to conclude criminal proceedings and enforce court verdicts. After this period, the case becomes time-barred and cannot be pursued further. The statute of limitation is counted from the day the crime was committed until the final court judgment, i.e., from the day of the final judgment to the enforcement of the sentence. The statute of limitations is determined on a case-by-case basis, primarily based on the severity of the penalty and the type of offense, however, crimes such as genocide, war crimes, and life imprisonment do not have a statute of limitations.

From 2018 to 2024, disciplinary commissions of the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council (HJPC) found that the negligence of 18 judges led to the statute of limitations in 27 criminal cases. As a result, ten convicts will never have to serve their sentence and 26 accused will never receive a final verdict.

These cases involved thefts, frauds, drug trafficking, violent behavior, involvement in fights resulting in death, unlawful possession of weapons, and other offenses that carry penalties of up to three years in prison or fines.

The majority of the judges admitted to negligence or lack of attention in their disciplinary proceedings, citing reasons such as heavy workload, unintentional mistakes, or personal issues. They received public reprimands or salary reductions ranging from BAM 300 to 5,352 – a total of about 20 thousand BAM.

According to the research conducted by the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIN), disciplinary proceedings have not prevented the repetition of mistakes nor did they influence the careers of the disciplined judges. On the other hand, a few individuals whose cases were time-barred due to judges’s errors, encouraged by such practice, continued with new criminal acts.

Statute Of Limitations Archives Justice In BiH
In courts in Bosnia and Herzegovina, between 230 and 340 criminal cases become time-barred each year due to the expiration of the legally set deadline for the completion of court proceedings and enforcement of the verdict. In these instances, it is unclear whether the accused are truly guilty or whether the convicted have served their sentence.

Šarić vs. Šarić

In the autumn of 2012, a straightforward case awaited the attention of Judge Ekrem Šarić at the Municipal Court in Velika Kladuša: Arif Dizdarević was accused of forging a document after he was caught driving a car with registration plates that belonged to someone else.

He confessed to the crime and was sentenced to three months in prison in December 2012, when the three-year term for starting the process of enforcement of the sentence began to run.

However, nothing happened until the fall of 2018 when Judge Šarić took over the case and made some contradictory moves, as documentation in possession of CIN suggested.

Judge Ekrem Šarić from the Municipal Court in Velika Kladuša will face the disciplinary commission for the second time due to the statute of limitations in a criminal case. (Photo: Dženat Dreković / CIN)

He first issued an order for the execution of the prison sentence and then withdrew it. Then he changed the date of the final judgment from December 2012 to December 2018, thereby automatically changing the start of the statute of limitations calculation.

He wrote to the police, who maintain criminal records with final judgments and imposed penalties, requesting to change the finality date to 2018. He also encouraged the convicted person to seek a retrial. Judge Šarić sought to transfer the jurisdiction for a retrial to other courts, but then in March 2022, he issued another order for the execution of the three-month prison sentence.

Dizdarević’s defense lawyer alerted the Court to the expired statute of limitations for the execution of the sentence. Court President Jasmina Miljković sustained this objection, and in early 2023, she issued a decision that Dizdarević would not go to prison due to the statute of limitations.

“The purpose of a sentence is for it to be executed promptly. To make an impact on the person concerned. You cannot issue a sentence, as you said, in 2012 (…) and then request for it to be executed in 2018”, said Miljković to CIN.

In her report to the HJPC, she wrote that some actions in this case were not appropriate for a judge and that he made them to justify his inaction. ”I can responsibly claim that this is a group of cases that he kept in his office, not returning them to the registry office, but instead dragging them around the office,” said President Miljković, concluding that Judge Šarić attempted to deceive and mislead the parties to avoid liability and justify inaction in the case over a period of six years.

A few months later, a disciplinary complaint was filed against Judge Šarić.

The preliminary hearing was postponed three times because Judge Šarić requested the commission members’ exemption, believing they would not be able to make an impartial decision, so now a new date is awaited. In the letter he wrote to the disciplinary commission, he stated that the statute of limitations had not expired, considering that the procedure was being repeated in the meantime.

Dizdarević expressed his fear that speaking to the media could lead to a change that would land him in prison, so he declined to talk to CIN. Judge Šarić was not inclined to publicly discuss this topic either.

“Ongoing proceedings cannot be commented on”, he said.

Judge Šarić has already been disciplined once for causing the statute of limitations to expire in a criminal proceeding. In February 2022, it was determined that he was liable for rendering a case he was assigned in 2010 time-barred. The Prosecution of the Unsko-Sanski Canton (USK) charged Fadil Šarić from Cazin and his acquaintance Elvir Dizdarević with unauthorized possession of weapons or explosive substances. Judge Šarić formed a case solely against Dizdarević, consolidating 21 charges against him, and in 2015 sentenced him to five years in prison.

The judge set aside the case against the accused namesake at that time, and in January 2020, he suspended the proceedings against him due to the statute of limitations. In his ruling, the judge explained that Šarić was not accessible to the court and that during the proceedings against Dizdarević, it had been established that he was not guilty of unauthorized possession of weapons or explosive substances.

His colleagues did not find merit in these arguments during the disciplinary proceedings. The Court’s president, Jasmina Miljković, testified that Judge Šarić retained hundreds of cases in his office – on his desk, on the floor, and in the cabinet – instead of submitting them to the registry office as required by law.

“Understandably, it’s challenging for a person to keep track of cases, if they are kept (in the office, author’s note), and this could lead to the statute of limitations on sentence enforcement”, Miljković remarked.

The President of the Basic Court in Velika Kladuša, Jasmina Miljković, claims she cannot influence the judge because he is independent in his work and makes decisions autonomously (Photo: Dženat Dreković / CIN)

During the disciplinary proceedings, Judge Šarić repeatedly rejected taking responsibility, arguing that he was a “victim of judicial terrorism”. Confident in the correctness of his decisions, he requested that the convicted Dizdarević and Šarić testify from prison. Meanwhile, Šarić had been incarcerated in Austria for the attempted murder of his girlfriend. His motion was rejected.

The disciplinary commission penalized the judge by reducing his salary by 25% for six months, totaling BAM 5,352.

As an aggravating factor, the commission considered Šarić’s behavior. During the proceedings, he submitted more than 20 requests for the exemption of commission members, which led to the postponement of hearings and affected the efficiency of the process. The High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council (HJPC) held this to be an abuse of procedural rights.

Prosecutor and member of the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council Sanin Bogunić explained that disciplinary commissions take into account several elements when imposing measures: “The number and severity of the transgression and its consequences, the degree of responsibility, the circumstances under which the transgression was committed, the previous work and behavior of the offender (…) the degree of remorse or cooperation shown by the judge or prosecutor concerned during the disciplinary proceedings.”

Judge Šarić paid the fine and remained in the same position. The penalty could only be an impediment if he were to change his work environment or apply for higher positions in the judiciary. Under the HJPC regulations from April 2023, a judge who has been penalized with a salary reduction for longer than six months cannot apply for positions within the court for three years after the disciplinary decision, which in Šarić’s case extends until February 2025.

The judge unsuccessfully appealed the penalty to the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and he claims to have approached the European Court of Human Rights because he believes his right to a fair trial has been violated. “It is not yet over”, maintained Šarić.

Statute of limitations following admission of guilt

The Office of the Disciplinary Counsel (ODC) found that out of 1,713 time-barred cases from 2018 to 2024, only 27 were attributable to judges’ negligence.

The ODC receives all reports on statutes of limitations through the HJPC Judicial Analytics and Reporting Department. According to Deputy Chief Disciplinary Counsel Mirza Hadžiomerović, disciplinary proceedings are not initiated if it is determined that the statute of limitations has expired due to objective circumstances such as the accused or convicted individuals fleeing, the inability to establish individual negligence within the institutional chain, a judge’s retirement, and similar reasons.

Disciplinary proceedings do not thoroughly investigate an individual’s work or systematically address the problem. Instead, the disciplinary counsel establishes the offense in a specific case for which the commission, if necessary, imposes a penalty.

Only in the case of 18 judges was a failure in their work identified, leading to the statute of limitations in criminal proceedings or the enforcement of sentences.  All except Judge Šarić received lesser fines or public reprimands.

Almost all admitted the mistake and accepted responsibility for negligence or work oversight, justifying themselves with family situations and health conditions or unintentional errors due to a heavy workload.

Among them is Judge Elis Sultanić of the Cantonal Court in Mostar. “I held that I should be penalized”, he told CIN.

In May 2021, his salary was reduced by 10% for five months, totaling BAM 1,892, due to the statute of limitations on the enforcement of a 2015 sentence.

At that time, Sultanić was a judge at the Municipal Court in Konjic and had convicted Alem Fejzić from Sarajevo and Admer Habibija from Konjic for drug trafficking. They pleaded guilty and were sentenced to seven and four months in prison, respectively. However, they did not serve their sentences because the judge issued the enforcement order in 2018, which was already too late.

Judge Sultanić expressed regret for the unintentional oversight: “The case file was sent down to the registry office, and I really don’t recall whether the case was returned to my office or not, but I do know that at that time, I was handling an incredibly large number of cases, and that’s how the oversight occurred”, he explained.

He mentioned that at the time, he had over a thousand different cases ranging from misdemeanors to criminal matters, which the disciplinary commission took into consideration when imposing the penalty.

“This might sound silly to the public now. People think that if someone is appointed as a judge, they must know everything, but it doesn’t work like that”, Judge Sultanić said, explaining that he did not know the defendants, was not afraid of them, nor did he take bribes to keep them free. He mentioned that he was not asked that during the disciplinary proceedings.

The disciplinary proceedings did not impact his career, just as it did not for others. Sultanić is now a judge of the Cantonal Court in Mostar, where he moved in February 2020, a few months before the disciplinary action was filed.

Statute of Limitations Ends Case in One Place, Criminal Activity Continues in Another

Documentation obtained by CIN reveals that at least five individuals, whose cases were time-barred due to judges’ negligence, continued with criminal activities and were either charged or convicted again.

Among them is the repeat offender Ibrahim Kličić from Cazin.

In 2010, he was accused of defrauding his fellow citizen Alija Hairlahović of BAM 1,000, promising to arrange an increase in his pension and a Slovenian visa.  The case was handled in Livno until November 2019 when it was closed due to the statute of limitations. Meanwhile, Hairlahović passed away.

The Office of the Disciplinary Counsel attributed the time bar to Judge Ana Krstanović from the Cantonal Court in Livno, concluding that she wrote her decisions with a several-month delay despite being aware of the statute of limitations.

She did not respond to a request for an interview, and according to the documentation reviewed by CIN, she accepted responsibility in the proceedings.  In November 2020, she was penalized with a 10% reduction in salary, approximately 300 BAM.

Meanwhile, Kličić took advantage of his freedom to engage in new criminal activities.  He stole 700 BAM from the home of an elderly couple in Bihać, leading to his sentencing by the Cantonal Court in Bihać to two years in prison in March 2023.

However, he did not serve this sentence because he fled, and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

Ibrahim Kličić was not convicted because the judge from the Livno court delayed the proceedings. In the meantime, he reoffended. (Photo: Dženat Dreković / CIN)

Ale Šiljdedić, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Una-Sana Canton, stated that the individual in question is a 68-year-old man who is not violent.  “I don’t think he poses a danger to citizens or the community.”

In his hometown of Cazin and at the local police department, there is no indication that he is wanted. There are no posted warrants, increased controls, or searches.

“If we were to go after every single one of those, every single request or warrant, and go directly to search for each person, we would need I don’t know how many police officers, and all other tasks could be neglected”, says Šiljdedić, explaining that the police officers have information about the warrant in the system and conduct routine checks and identifications. However, based on their knowledge, he has left Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The warrant will remain in effect until an arrest is made or until the possible expiration of the statute of limitations on the enforcement of the court sentence. The law specifies that a prison sentence exceeding one year shall not be enforced if it is not initiated within five years from the final judgment.

“If the court determines that the statute of limitations has occurred, they will initiate the procedure and inform us to remove the warrant”, Šiljdedić explained.

Based on the previous stance of the Office of the Disciplinary Counsel, if the statute of limitations occurs, there will not be a disciplinary proceeding because the Municipal Court in Cazin issued the warrant and took all necessary steps within its jurisdiction to enforce the sentence.

Sanin Bogunić, a member of the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council, believes that in Bosnia and Herzegovina, “a relatively small number” of criminal cases end in being time-barred, primarily due to the accused not being accessible.

In cases where judges and prosecutors behave irresponsibly and improperly, it is necessary to establish their accountability. Bogunić believes that each disciplinary proceeding is a unique case that is carefully considered on its own merits: “By imposing disciplinary penalties, our goal is to both punish the committed offense and serve as a warning to other judicial officers not to engage in transgressions. Thus, it has a preventive effect”, explained Bogunić.

Meanwhile, two disciplined judges have since been convicted or suspected of criminal offenses related to their service. Judge Drena Marin of the District Court in Prijedor was sentenced to 6 months in prison in February 2024 for a law violation while serving as a judge. She had left this position six months prior.  Judge Jovan Savić of the Basic Court in Bijeljina is suspected of disclosing official data and has been suspended pending an ongoing investigation.

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