For the past three years, the USAID Judicial Systems Strengthening Program (JSSP) was working with the stakeholders in Kosovo judicial institutions – including the Kosovo Judicial Council, the Court Administration Committee, and the Appellate and basic courts – on introducing a range of tools that would help with managing the caseload and preventing the inflation of a court’s case inventory with incomplete or deficient cases. These initiatives include introducing backlog review officers, recommendations to improve hearing productivity, referral to mediation, as well as the introduction of an early and enhanced case screening methodology.
Case screening optimizes time spent on reviewing and carrying out administrative activities on a case on the basis of the actual needs, and improves efficiency in the management and review of complete case files. It is a step that precedes accepting a case for processing and assigning it a case number as it involves reviewing the files submitted for accuracy and completeness. If a case file is incomplete, with inaccurate/missing data, or without proof of payment of court fees for example, it is returned to litigants for completion/correction prior to registering the case for court processing. This saves the court a lot of time in subsequent case management, and prevent a case file languishing in the court’s inventory for years due to administrative issues.
As a result of piloting this initiative, more than 6,900 cases at select Kosovo’s Basic Courts and the Court of Appeals were screened. This procedure contributed to improving the monthly case clearance rate in the pilot courts by an average of 11 percent. The initiative was particularly successful in the Court of Appeals, whereby clerks were able to differentiate between procedural claims that can be resolved quickly and more complex, labor-intensive, merit-based claims. Disposing of the former type of issues more quickly allowed judges more time to devote to case deliberation and improve the quality of their decisions. As a result, the case-clearance rate at the Appellate Court has improved by 36 percent.
Building on this success, in agreement with the Kosovo Judicial Council and the Court Administration Committee, the methodology for early case screening was instituted across Kosovo courts by a regulation adopted in July. This institutionalized the important effort invested by the JSSP in the past years, solidifying results already achieved and building on them for sustainable case management practices that would help courts improve both efficiency and quality of justice, as well as help citizens of Kosovo with better access to justice.