Jezik / Language:
2 February 2007

Late payments anger defence lawyers

Mirna Buljugic BIRN BiH
The fairness of war crimes trials at the Court of BiH has been called into question after defence attorneys complained of irregular payments.
Ex-officio defence attorneys representing war crimes indictees before the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina are having a number of difficulties with their pay, Justice Report can reveal.

Apart from late payments, attorneys claim, the money they receive for their work is "tragic".

Both, attorneys and experts have warned that the Court ofBiH will have to resolve this problem before it escalates into defence boycotting the trials.

The Bosnian Criminal Code proscribes that every indictee and suspect has the right to a paid attorney, if s/he does not have the funds to afford one. The Code, which is aligned with the European Convention of Human Rights, ensures equality for the indictee before the court and law.

The law also precisely determines the tariffs for defence attorneys, as well as what kind of expenses the Court will cover.

According to those regulations the Court, after appointing a defence attorney, must pay his or her travel expenses if they are travelling outside Sarajevo, their accommodation if necessary and for their field work and presence at trials, for example by the payment of a per diem.

Defence attorneys' pay is determined by so-called "value points". One point equals 3KM (1.5 EUR).

For example, one appearance by a defence attorney before the Appellate Chamber is worth 260 points or 780KM (approx. 380EUR). Sending a letter to the court is worth 15 points or 45KM.

Half of this amount is paid if a scheduled hearing is cancelled.

Defence attorneys complained about irregular payments for the first time last year.

The Office of the High Representative (OHR) reacted to their complaints and used the Bonn powers to impose a new legal resolution according to which "compensation for the appointed defence attorney can be paid during the procedure in regular intervals determined by the court". It also ruled that the Court can decide to make a payment in advance under "exceptional circumstances".

Defence attorneys are not only raising the issue of their payments with the media. Some have raised the matter in the Court and have asked the trial chamber to intervene.

During a January hearing in the trial of Gojko Jankovic, which is now drawing to its close, attorney Milan Trbojevic told the court that he has not received any payment since the hearing began in March 2006.

Attorneys have told Justice Report that they send the Court receipts that include their expenses at the end of each month. The Court considers the receipts and makes a decision on what will be paid and how.

"They always check every little detail when we send receipts," said one defence lawyer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feels "humiliated after the series of requests I sent but never received a response to".

"They cut the receipts I sent to the court by half, and finally my compensation was beneath any limit. In one year, for the duration of the process, I received a total of 600KM (300 EUR) for all my expenses," he added.

Aside from the alleged late payments, some attorneys also claim that the value points are not adequate compensation for their work.

"Ireceived 618KM at the municipal court at a plea hearing, which lasts for five minutes. For a whole day trial at Court of BiH, I get 390KM," said Slavko Asceric, one of the appointed defence attorneys.

Asceric is one of 22 attorneys acting as the defence of 11 indictees charged with genocide in Kravica, near Srebrenica. He told Justice Report that some of his colleagues have also complained about irregular payments.

"After my colleagues and I hadn't received compensation for almost a year, we complained. They only paid us for September recently," Asceric said.

He added that the lawyers who are working on this large, high profile and complex trial spend many hours on it and often cover their own expenses. The complexity of cases before the Court of BiH often means they cannot take on any other clients, they say.

Justice Report also discovered that the defence attorneys had initially intended to protest and refuse further work at the Court of BiH until this problem is resolved, but have - for now - decided not to take this step at this stage.

In response to Justice Report's request for an answer from the Court's Press office the department replied by letter, which stated: "You need to state who has not been paid for one year if you want an answer."

The Department for Criminal Defence (OKO) told Justice Report that they had also received complaints from defence attorneys about irregular payments. But an official at OKO added: "The court must resolve that problem."
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