After years of waiting for and coaxing judicial representatives into making asset declarations public, the Center for Investigative Reporting in Sarajevo (CIN) has set up a database of biographies and records on income, real properties, vehicles, savings, loans, shares and court proceedings of 29 judges and prosecutors.
CIN has also published a second database of disciplinary sanctions taken against judges and prosecutors while publishing two stories about those judiciary officials who kept evidence in their offices or failed to write verdicts and send convicts to prison.
The publishing of our two databases and related stories have had three important consequences for the general public in Bosnia and Herzegovina and for the judicial community in particular.
First off, the Bosnian public for the first time got a chance to access information about judiciary officials in a single place in a clear, searchable and in-dept manner. For example, the database features names of sanctioned judges and prosecutors who have repeatedly violated laws and court procedures over the past nine and half years.
Several hundred court cases were now exposed where judges and prosecutors took no action while citizens waited helplessly or criminals got off scot-free because some judges and prosecutors kept these files hidden in their drawers.
Secondly, the representatives from the Bosnian judicial oversight body have published new guidelines for judges and prosecutors in order to improve their work. Also, non-governmental organizations started monitoring disciplinary hearings, while Bosnian journalists began using the database as a research tool their stories.
Third, the project galvanized the public on the issue of transparency of judges and prosecutors’ asset declarations and their financial statements for work done outside of their office. As a consequence of this, some members of judiciary started publishing their asset declarations on their own after years of denial.
During the work on this project, reporters have sent over 100 requests for access to information, collected over 1,000 documents from courts and prosecutor’s offices and interviewed 50 judicial officials and citizens who were wronged because of judges and prosecutors’ errors.
What was the hardest part of this project?
During reporting, reporters encountered numerous difficulties: the judicial oversight body, courts and prosecutors’ offices didn’t want to share this information. Some of the most powerful judiciary officials warned reporters that publishing of the database might have an adverse effect on judges and prosecutors’ integrity. Other judicial institutions tried to delay complying with the law deadline or outright refused to provide information that reporters had a right to access.
The project was published at the time when state prosecutors put pressure on Bosnian journalists to not publish their findings, while some of our colleagues were also interrogated by the prosecutors
What can others learn from this project?
Reporters and civil society organizations may learn how to collect records that government agencies refuse to make publicly available. The general public wants this type of information to be transparent so that it can monitor the work of judicial institutions and also learn more about the right of public to know and how it can act if they are not happy with the work of the judges and prosecutors. The project will also help reporters and organizations in the countries that don’t have transparent judiciary to learn how to get similar information. However, the most important thing is that such a project shows the power and significant of investigative reporting as a method to make government institutions more transparent and accountable.