Database “Judge who Judges” (“Prosudi ko sudi”)
Organisation size: Small
Publication date: 8 Dec 2020
Credit: Bojana Jovanović, Stevan Dojčinović, Bojana Pavlović, Milica Vojinović, Jelena Radivojević, Marija Vučić, Vesna Radojević, Dragana Pećo, Miodrag Ćakić, Jelena Vasić and Snežana Petijević
KRIK has done it again as their “Judge who Judges” data journalism project shines a bright light on Serbia’s secretive cast of judges that has for too long avoided scrutiny at huge expense to the public. The judges, their deeds and their wealth are some of the best kept secrets in the Serbian society and KRIK has managed through dogged and extremely dangerous reporting to show what is hidden behind controversial judgments that influenced the Balkan nation in the past decades. KRIK highlighted a quasi-universal problem and their work needs to be replicated beyond the borders of Serbia.
Who are the judges who make decisions in the most important trials in Serbia? Why do many of those cases end up with the release of controversial businessmen, politicians, and criminals? How do judges progress in their careers, when they made illegal decisions, what property do they own? KRIK’s unique online database “Judge who judges“ provides answers to all these questions. Our new innovative database is the only place where you can read the complete profiles of 33 Serbian high-ranked judges, who act in the main departments for organized crime and corruption.
Believe it or not, this is the first time that someone in Serbia has tackled this topic, no one before KRIK has dared to raise the issue of accountability and transparency of judges. And now, it is finally possible for Serbian citizens to have insight in work of high-ranked judges, to have informed opinions as the first step in the fight against corruption in judiciary, since our readers can now “judge the judges”.
This investigation had a huge impact, on several levels – it has launched a significant public debate on accountability of judges and transparency of their work and income. Findings from our database were republished dozens of times in other Serbian media, our reporters and editors were called to talk in several TV shows, dedicated exclusively to our investigation of Serbian judiciary. Database has attracted enormous public attention, so already in the first month since launching our database had half million of visits, which is remarkable result for a small country such as Serbia. Citizens were hungry for this information since they previously could not get data about judges anywhere and so they showered us with praise on social networks.
Some of the judges even subsequently contacted us to declare and explain their assets! More importantly, state Agency for the Prevention of Corruption has recently launched its own investigation of the origin of huge property of one of the judges we wrote about (Zoran Savic), precisely because we discovered the disproportion of wealth in relation to his income! This state investigation is currently ongoing.
In Serbia there was no such database which was dedicated exclusively to transparency of the work of judges. That is why KRIK’s database was made carefully and thoroughly, by digging and combining data from all available official sources and archives in one place.
Our Database now contains narrative information on seven different areas:
1) judges’ career and promotions, 2) court cases he/she worked on, 3) illegal decisions (verdicts) he/she made, 4) proceedings led against judges – disciplinary, misdemeanor, 5) reported and undeclared property (of course without publishing addresses), 6) judges’ professional engagement out of court and 7) compromising business alliances. All of these were collected from official sources and registers.
The process looks as following: the journalists first started to search basic information about the judges’: immediate family members’ names, potential companies, declared assets, political connections, and possible records of proceedings. One part of this is to do initial online research. Then we mostly had to communicate directly with the courts and other official archives, since most data about judges were not available online. We filed hundreds of requests for documents and data to Serbian courts and state registers.
Our team has done detailed analysis of every collected document. After that, we have contacted all judges which we investigated and included their answers and reactions to our discoveries in their profiles in that database.
What was the hardest part of this project?
As mentioned above, this is the first time that someone in Serbia has tackled this topic, no one before KRIK has dared to raise the issue of accountability and transparency of judges. Our database is new and unique, that is why it was especially difficult, first we had to convince judges to talk to us!
Despite the public importance of what they do, Serbian judges usually do not want to communicate with the media. Prior to the publication of the database, KRIK tried to interview all 33 judges, but most (two thirds) did not respond to the invitation. However, some contacted us later when they saw the database and gave us quotes, which we have added to their profiles.
Also, Serbian associations of judges were divided in commenting our database, ones stubbornly continued to defend their secrecy and they had publicly attacked KRIK, saying that “journalists have no rights to report about judges and their work”, which is complete nonsense and testifies to their unprofessionalism. But the other Serbian association and several independent professionals pointed out how important it is to increase judicial transparency in such way as KRIK did.
What can others learn from this project?
It took as more than a year to make this database and it was worth it, citizens were hungry for this data. It is always crucial to find a hole in a society that only quality investigative journalism can fill and then to be of service to its readers.
We will continue to update our database, KRIK team is immensely proud we have contributed to transparency in Serbian society!