The Constitution of the Republic of Croatia is based on the principle of separation of powers into legislative, executive and judicial branches.
Judicial power is exercised by the courts. The judiciary is to be autonomous and independent. The courts administer justice according to the Constitution and the law, as well as the international agreements and treaties, which make an integral part of the legal system of the Republic of Croatia.
In the Republic of Croatia the administration of justice is carried out by misdemeanour courts, municipal courts, county courts, commercial courts, administrative courts, the High Misdemeanour Court of the Republic of Croatia, the High Commercial Court of the Republic of Croatia, the High Administrative Court of the Republic of Croatia and the Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia.
The Law on Territorial Jurisdiction and Seats of the Courts (Official Gazette no. 3/94, 100/96, 115/97, 131/97, 129/00 and 67/01) and the Law on Territorial Jurisdiction and Seats of the Misdemeanour Courts (OG no. 36/98) regulate the seat and territorial jurisdiction of courts.
On 31 December 2012 in Croatia there were 61 misdemeanour courts, 67 municipal courts, 7 commercial courts and 4 administrative courts acting as courts of first instance. As a rule, the High Misdemeanour Court of the Republic of Croatia, the High Commercial Court of the Republic of Croatia and county courts are courts of second instance. County courts (15 courts) also perform investigation procedures and adjudicate in some first instance criminal cases, whereas the High Administrative Court of the Republic of Croatia passes judgements on the legal foundation of general acts. The Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia is the court of last instance ensuring the uniform application of laws and equal protection under the law.
At present, there are 158 courts in Croatia.
On 31 December 2009 there was a total of 1.924 judges. In addition, 588 advisers of the court and expert associates were also employed at the courts along with 75 graduated lawyers with the status of judicial apprentices and 6.251 court officers and servants.
Lay judges participate in administration of justice in conformity with the law.
In 2011 the Croatian courts adjudicated a total of 2.439,201 different cases. Out of that number 1.653,640 cases were brought before the court for the first time. The courts decided a total number of 1.613,477 cases whereas 827,102 cases remained unresolved. Statistics from 1997 to present date indicate a tendency of constant increase of the number of cases filed.
All court hearings are open to the public and rulings are pronounced publicly in the name of the Republic of Croatia.
Apart from ensuring the uniform application of laws and equality of all citizens, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia also discusses current issues related to court practice, declares regular or extraordinary legal remedies if required by the law or separate by-laws, decides jurisdictional disputes among lower courts on the territory of the Republic of Croatia and analyses various needs for professional development of judges, advisers to the court and judicial apprentices. In addition, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia performs other tasks as prescribed by law.
The President of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia is installed and removed by the Parliament, after a proposal is made by the President. Prior opinion must be given by the General Session of the Supreme Court and the appropriate Committee of the Croatian Parliament. The mandate of the President of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia is four years.
The Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia comprises the Criminal Department and the Civil Department employing 42 judges, the President of the Supreme Court included.
The Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia regularly publishes the Selection of Decisions of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia as a periodical of court practice available to experts as well as the genera public. The Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia also publishes court practice on its web site (www.vsrh.hr). The access to the web site is free of charge.
The National Judicial Council is charged with appointing all judges and bringing disciplinary action against them. The Council is composed of eleven members, usually esteemed judges, lawyers, and university professors of law, elected by the Croatian Parliament. Out of the total number of members of the National Judicial Council, the majority of seven are judges.
Once appointed, a judge holds his or her position for life. Persons nominated for the position at misdemeanor, commercial or administrative courts need to graduate from the State School for Judicial Officials whereas persons nominated for the position at county courts, the High Misdemeanour Court of the Republic of Croatia, the High Commercial Court of the Republic of Croatia and the High Administrative Court of the Republic of Croatia need to have eight years of experience as judicial officials. The nomination for a justice of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia requires fifteen years of service in the administration of justice either as a judicial official, barrister, public notary, university professor of law who passed a judicial service examination and at least fifteen years of service upon the examination as well as an esteemed lawyer with expertise in a particular field of law and published scientific papers and articles who passed a judicial service examination.
A judge shall be relieved from duty if he or she thus requests or loses capability to perform official duties, or gets convicted for a criminal offence that brings him or her into disrepute for the performance of judicial office. Other reasons for relieving a judge from judicial office include grave misconduct contravening the law, decision reached by the National Judicial Council and reaching the age of seventy.
Except for the judges of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia, all judges are being evaluated in the process of nomination for another court or when they apply for the position of the president of a particular court.
A judge may not be a member of any political party nor participate in its activities. A judge may not perform any other duty or business that might interfere with his/her independence, impartiality and autonomy or otherwise engage in improper action or dereliction of duty incompatible with judicial office. A judge must keep to him/herself everything he/she learns about the parties, their rights and obligations as well as legal interests in the scope of judicial duties and preserve secrecy of all information that have not been discussed publically during a trial.
A judge is obliged to undergo professional training and participate in educational programmes for professional development.
The president of a court is nominated by the National Judicial Council for the term of four years. The president of a court may be nominated only for two consecutive terms of office except for the courts that have no more than five judges. The president who is not nominated for another term continues working as a judge at the court of his/her initial appointment.