State power in the Republic of Croatia is organized on the principle of separation of power into legislative, executive and judicial.
Judicial power is exercised by the courts. The judiciary is autonomous and independent. The courts administer justice according to the Constitution, laws, international treaties and other valid sources of law.
The Law on Courts (Official Gazette nos. 28/13, 33/15, 82/15, 82/16, 67/18 and 126/19) regulates the organization, scope and actual jurisdiction of courts if not otherwise regulated by law, the internal organization of courts, competences of court administration and authorities of the president of the court, duties of the administrative director of court, protection of the right to trial within a reasonable time, supervision of court administration and judicial inspection, rights and duties of judges, competences of court advisors, the security of persons, property and court facilities, the appointment of lay judges, conditions and procedure for nomination of permanent court interpreters, experts and estimators, as well as funds for the operation of courts.
The courts are to protect the legal order of the Republic of Croatia as regulated by the Constitution, the Acquis Communautaire, international treaties and laws, as well as to secure the uniform application of the law, and equality of all before the law. Courts rule in the cases concerning fundamental human rights and obligations of citizens, the rights and obligations of the Republic of Croatia and local and regional self-government units as well as the rights and obligations of other legal entities. The courts decide on penalties and other legal measures for offenders responsible for criminal offences and misdemeanours according to the law and other regulations. Furthermore, the courts determine the legality of general and individual acts of public administration bodies, decide private civil law cases of citizens, labour, commercial, property as well as other legal matters in conformity with the law (Article 3 of the Law on Courts).
In the Republic of Croatia, judicial power is exercised by regular and specialized courts, as well as by the Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia.
The regular courts are:
• Municipal courts
• County courts.
Specialized courts are:
• Commercial courts
• Administrative courts
• High Commercial Court of the Republic of Croatia
• High Administrative Court of the Republic of Croatia
• High Misdemeanour Court of the Republic of Croatia
• High Criminal Court of the Republic of Croatia.
The Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia is the court of the last instance (Article 14 of the Law on Courts).
The law also regulates the establishment of other regular and specialized courts in line with the real competence and jurisdiction or for the area of legal practice (Article 14, Paragraph 5 of the Law on Courts).
The seat and the territorial jurisdiction of the courts are determined by the Law on Territorial Jurisdiction and Seats of the Courts (Official Gazette 67/18).
On 31 December 2019, there were in the Republic of Croatia 34 municipal courts, 9 commercial courts and 4 administrative courts acting as courts of the first instance.
The High Commercial Court of the Republic of Croatia, the High Administrative Court of the Republic of Croatia, the High Misdemeanour Court of the Republic of Croatia and county courts are courts of the 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 also passes judgements on the legality of general acts. The Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia, as the highest court, ensures, among other things, the uniform application of the rights and equality of all under the law.
In Croatia, therefore, there are a total of 66 courts.
1,712 judges worked in the courts on December 31, 2019. There were 622 court advisers and expert associates, along with law graduates in the status of judicial apprentices and 5,875 court officers and employees.
Judicial advisers and lay judges also participate in the administration of justice in conformity with the law.
In 2019, a total of 1,696,778 different cases were pending in all courts in the Republic of Croatia. 1,287,716 of that number were cases brought before the court for the first time. The courts decided 1,215,959 cases, whereas 481,348 cases remained unresolved. Statistics indicate a tendency of constant decrease of the number of judges, so following the number of judges over five years, it is obvious that 167 fewer judges were working in 2019 in the courts than in 2015.
Court hearings are generally open to the public and rulings are pronounced publicly in the name of the Republic of Croatia.
The highest court in the Republic of Croatia - the Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia within its scope and jurisdiction:
• ensures the uniform application of rights and equality of all in its application,
• decides on regular legal remedies if required by a special law,
• decides on extraordinary legal remedies against final court decisions in the Republic of Croatia,
• decides on conflicts of jurisdiction when prescribed by a special law,
• considers current issues of court practice, and proposes areas for the professional development of judges, court advisors and judicial apprentices in order to raise the efficiency and quality of the judiciary as a whole,
• performs other tasks determined by law (Article 20 of the Law on Courts).
The appointment procedure for the President of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia is initiated by the State Judicial Council by announcing a public invitation, no later than six months before the expiration of the term or no later than 30 days after the termination of the mandate of the President of the Supreme Court due to the other reasons prescribed by law (Article 44.a Paragraph 1 of the Law on Courts).
The President of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia, with the prior opinion of the General Session of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia and the appropriate committee of the Croatian Parliament, is elected and dismissed by the Croatian Parliament. The President of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia is appointed for a term of four years and may be re-elected, provided that no one may be re-elected to that office more than twice.
In the Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia various organizational units are established, namely, the Office of the President, the Criminal Department, the Civil Department, organizational units for monitoring, studying and recording case law in these departments and for monitoring and studying court practice at the Council of Europe and the European Union, as well as organizational units for court administration.
On 31 December 2019, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia has 39 judges, including the President.
The Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia issues a Selection of Decisions of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia, as a periodical of the court practice, making it available to the professional and the public. The Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia also publishes the court practice on its website (www.vsrh.hr) thus providing it accessible to the general public. Access to the website of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia is free of charge.
Judges in the Republic of Croatia are appointed and dismissed, and their disciplinary responsibility is decided by the State Judicial Council in accordance with provisions of the State Judicial Council Act (Official Gazette 116/10, 57/11, 130/11, 13/13). 28/13, 82/15, 67/18 and 126/19).
The State Judicial Council has eleven members and consists of seven judges, two university professors of law and two Members of the Parliament, one of whom is from the opposition. The members of the State Judicial Council ranging from judges, as prescribed, are two judges of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia, one high court judge, three judges are from the county courts, and one is a judge of first instance courts.
Members of the State Judicial Council from the ranks of judges are elected by judges from among themselves. Commission for the Election of Members of the Council, Candidate Committees and Election Committees are responsible for conduction of election.
Members of the State Judicial Council from the ranks of university professors of legal sciences, at the proposal of faculty councils, are elected by all professors of law faculties in the Republic of Croatia (Article 34, Paragraph 1 of the State Judicial Council Act).
Two members of the State Judicial Council are appointed by the Croatian Parliament from among its members, one of whom is from the opposition (Article 35 of the Law on the State Judicial Council).
The President and Deputy President of the State Judicial Council are elected by the Council members from among themselves, for a term of four years. The President of the Council must be a judge (Article 41, Paragraph 1 of the State Judicial Council Act).
Judicial duty is permanent.
A person who has graduated from the State School for Judicial Officials or who is already performing judicial office may be appointed a judge of a municipal, commercial and administrative court. A person who has worked as a judicial official for at least ten years may be appointed a judge of a county court, and a person who has worked as a judicial official for at least twelve years may be appointed a judge of 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. A person who has worked as a judicial official for at least 15 years, has been a lawyer, notary public, university professor of law who has passed the bar exam and has at least 15 years of work experience after passing the bar exam as well as a distinguished lawyer who has passed the bar exam and has at least 20 years of work experience, whose professional work in a certain legal field, as well as professional and scientific work have been proven, may be appointed a judge of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia. (Article 51 of the Law on the State Judicial Council).
A judge shall be relieved from the office if he or she so requests, if he or she permanently loses the capability to perform his/her duties, if he or she is convicted of a criminal offence that makes him or her unworthy of performing judicial office, if in accordance with the law, due to a serious disciplinary offence, the Council so decides and when he or she reaches the age of 70 (Article 77 of the Law on the State Judicial Council).
Except for judges of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia, 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 a political party nor participate in political activity. A judge may not perform any other duty or business that might interfere with his or her autonomy, impartiality and independence or diminish his or her social reputation or is otherwise incompatible with the performance of judicial duties. A judge is obliged to keep for himself/herself everything he or she has learned about the parties and their rights, obligations and legal interests in the scope of judicial duties, ie performing other tasks, and to keep confidential all information that has not been the subject of a public hearing during the court proceedings.
A judge is obliged to undergo continuous professional development and to participate at least once a year in the education and training programs of the Judicial Academy or the European Network of Professional Development Centres for Judicial Officials.
The president of the court is appointed by the State Judicial Council for a term of 4 years. No one may be appointed to the office of president of a court in a court of the same degree and type more than twice. The president of a court who has not been reappointed shall continue to serve as a judge in the court in which he or she has been appointed as a judge.