The Human Rights Action calls on the Constitutional Committee to urgently conduct interviews and propose to the Parliament candidates for judges of the Constitutional Court, who would be voted at the session of the first regular session on October 3. Interruption in the work of the Constitutional Court due to the lack of a quorum prevents the protection of electoral rights and other human rights.
As of today, only six candidates will be heard, out of a total of 19 who meet the conditions for judges of the Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Committee should speed up its work so that the Parliament can elect judges of the Constitutional Court immediately at the beginning of the regular session on October 3.
The work of the Constitutional Court has already been blocked for several days because the members of the Constitutional Committee – deputies of the Democratic Montenegro, the Democratic Front, the Democratic Party of Socialists, the Liberal Party, the Socialist People’s Party and URA have not managed to propose – for more than two years, out of 18 candidates, they could not determine the proposal of at least one new judge, whose election would have enabled that Court to continue to operate.
The blockade means that it is impossible to decide on appeals related to elections, which fall under the jurisdiction of the Constitutional Court from the moment the elections are announced (e.g. complaints of voters, candidates and applicants of electoral lists regarding candidacies, voter lists, up to the election results against the decision of the State Election Commission). It is disabled to decide on 250 initiatives and proposals for the review of constitutionality and legality, the conflicts of jurisdiction, and so on.
Deciding on almost 3,000 constitutional appeals for the protection of human rights, as many of which are pending in the Constitutional Court, is seriously threatened as well, because to make these sorts of decisions it is now necessary to have a consensus of three judges, which has been often impossible to achieve in practice to date (in the absence of consensus, a general session with at least 4 judges decides, and the fourth judge is no longer present in the court).
We also ask that the Law on the Parliament, which is currently in the process of being drafted, be used to prevent similar irresponsible behaviour of deputies that blocks the work of state authorities.
A reminder of the omissions in the selection procedure of the missing judges of the Constitutional Court in the last two years
Although in the last two years they had announced four competitions for the election of judges of the Constitutional Court, in different periods of time the members of the Constitutional Committee, i.e. deputies from all three political parties that make up the parliamentary majority – Democratic Montenegro, the Democratic Front and URA – had refused to vote at least once for any of the candidates, while the representatives of the opposition – the Democratic Party of Socialists, had boycotted the work of the Parliament and its bodies for more than two months, including voting on candidates for judges of the Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Committee has been inefficient, unjustifiably delaying the implementation of the competition, interviewing candidates and giving opinions about them. There is no justification for the fact that at least 7 members of the Committee, out of 13, could not agree on any of the 18 candidates who were interviewed by the Committee, in order to enable the continued work of the Constitutional Court.
As a reminder, the first public competition for the election of two judges of the Constitutional Court was announced more than two years ago, on 7 August 2020. At that time, 9 of the total 13 members of the Constitutional Committee failed to give an opinion about the candidates that participated in the competition: three members from the Democratic Montenegro and URA abstained, one member from the Liberal Party failed to appear at the session, while five deputies from the Democratic Party of Socialists boycotted the work of parliamentary committees.
As for the first public competition, after the change of government in the elections of August 2020 and the formation of the Parliament and the new composition of the parliamentary committees, the first interviews with candidates for judges of the Constitutional Court were held more than 9 months after the competition was concluded. When the selection of candidates for judges to be proposed to the Parliament was finally put on the agenda, a month after the completion of the interviews, the deputies from Democratic Montenegro announced that they would not vote for any of the 8 candidates because the public competition had been announced during the previous convocation of the Parliament. They were of the opinion that a new competition should be announced, so that as many candidates as possible could apply. More than 9 months after the end of the public competition, and more than half a year after the formation of the new convocation of the Parliament and parliamentary committees, after interviewing 8 candidates who did meet the requirements the deputies of Democratic Montenegro announced their above position on the very day the candidates were supposed to be voted on. This rendered the entire competition pointless. The deputy from URA also abstained from voting, explaining his abstinence by the fact that he was only replacing the deputy who was an actual member of the Committee, and that he was not present during the interviews. During this period, deputies from the Democratic Party of Socialists (five of them are members of the Constitutional Committee) boycotted the work of the Parliament and parliamentary committees because they were dissatisfied with the actions of the ruling majority. Consequently, none of the candidates had a chance to be elected on that day. A month before the vote, deputies from this party temporarily suspended the boycott in order to vote for the dismissal of the Minister of Justice and Human and Minority Rights; however, they were unwilling to suspend it to enable the election of judges of the Constitutional Court.
The subsequent steps taken by the Constitutional Committee were anything but efficient. The new competition was announced on 1 September 2021, a month and a half after the unsuccessful completion of the first public competition. The interviews began almost three months later (at the end of November 2021), and the deputies took no less than 8 months to give their opinions about the candidates (at the end of July 2022). In the meantime, two new public competitions were announced as judges Dragoljub Drašković and Miodrag Iličković fulfilled the requirement for retirement. Neither competition was announced in a timely manner; the responsibility for this is shared by both the Constitutional Court and the Constitutional Committee.
With regard to the termination of the office of Judge Dragoljub Drašković and the announcement of a public competition, one should recall the refusal of the President of the Constitutional Court, Budimir Šćepanović, to inform the Constitutional Committee thereof in a timely manner, that is – in line with Article 7 of the Law on the Constitutional Court – within six months before the fulfilment of the requirement for old age retirement. In a letter, the President of the Constitutional Court informed the Constitutional Committee that the five judges of that Court had unsuccessfully voted on whether Judge Drašković fulfilled the requirement for old-age retirement, and on whether it was necessary to inform the Constitutional Committee thereof, even though it was their legal obligation. It was also absurd that Judge Drašković himself took part in this vote, despite the fact that the issue concerned him personally.
In the case of termination of the office of Judge Miodrag Iličković, the Constitutional Committee was informed six months in advance that this Judge’s office was to be terminated due to the fact that he had fulfilled the requirements for old-age retirement. Instead of announcing a public competition within 15 days of the receipt of the notice, in line with Article 8 of the Law on the Constitutional Court, this was done only two months later.
At the end of July 2022, deputies gave their opinions about the candidates registered for three public competitions, on the same day. None of the 18 registered candidates, or rather 16 candidates (as two applied for two competitions), received 7 votes. Four deputies, namely three from the Democratic Front and one from URA, decided to abstain from voting on the candidates, which proved to be crucial since some of them would have been elected had they received just one additional vote. This justified the conclusion that selfish party interests threaten the protection of human rights of an immeasurable number of citizens.