All Bankruptcies on One Web Page for Faster Procedures

PRESIDENT OF THE HIGH COMMERCIAL COURT SRDAN SIMAC speaks about an internet project which will speed up and facilitate bankruptcy procedures and increase their transparency

nacional_13022007_Page_1.jpgSRDAN SIMAC President of the High Commercial Court claims that the project facilitates anticorruption activities

On its web page, the non-governmental association Judge's Web introduced a new project - Web Bankruptcy, where everything related to bankruptcy procedures led in front of all the commercial courts in Croatia can be found. It is a "one stop web shop" where a buyer in one place and in real time receives all relevant information concerning the sale in bankruptcy procedures. Sales information may be searched according to the type and value of property, seller, geographical area where the object of sale is located as well as information relating to the court which is handling that bankruptcy procedure. The web page also contains bankruptcy regulations and judicial practice concerning bankruptcy law, information on bankruptcy judges and trustees, land registry excerpts, court registry excerpts, evaluations of the property on sale as well as their technical drawings and photographs. The idea for the project came from Mario Vukelic, judge of the High Commercial Court, and its active realization was started when Srdan Simac became the President of the High Commercial Court of the Republic of Croatia. That court is the project user, and the project was implemented by the non-governmental association Judge's Web which enabled its funding through foreign donations. As well as the other parts of the Judge's Web portal, this project did not take one kuna from the tax payers. The Web Bankruptcy project has also been prepared in accordance with IT guidelines of the Croatian Government and the Central State Administrative Office for e-Croatia. Like the other parts of the Judge's Web portal, the project will also be taken over by the Ministry of Justice and continue its development after its full realization and after the system of updating the database is fully operational. Srdan Simac, President of the High Commercial Court of the Republic of Croatia, believes that this web page will significantly facilitate the faster solving of bankruptcy cases which, due to long and inefficient procedures of selling bankruptcy assets, can last even several years. This will be a direct contribution to the reform of judiciary. This project should make commercial courts more efficient. It affirms the respect of the principle of public access to justice; contributes to the standardization of judicial practice in bankruptcy law and introduces transparency in court bankruptcy procedures. In his interview with Nacional, Simac explained in detail what the significance of the project is and commented on the functioning of the High Commercial Court.
"In the former social system bankruptcy was almost unknown"

Public accessibility 

NACIONAL: What is the project Web Bankruptcy and what will it bring to judiciary, especially commercial judiciary? 

- The project is a world-unique project which is very simple. This specialized web page can be easily and freely accessed, it is easy to navigate and it ensures the transparency of the functioning of bankruptcy proceedings as well as it contributes to anticorruption actions. Until now the access to information on bankruptcy procedures and especially on assets being sold in those proceedings has been hard for a wider public because public notices on sales could be found only in Official Gazette or daily newspapers, because of which sales information shared the same destiny as the daily newspapers and actually lasted only one day, which practically prevented access to those information for the larger part of potential buyers. This project significantly improved the period of availability of public notices on selling bankruptcy assets and created the possibility of insight into the sales within the whole territory of Croatia. This created conditions for participation of a much larger number of potential buyers in sales procedures as well as for increased range of sales information which now for the first time cross the borders of our country. This was done by the creator of the web page by making its contents available not only in Croatian, but in English language as well. All of these features will significantly contribute to speeding up the sale of bankruptcy assets and consequently faster finalization of bankruptcy procedures. 

NACIONAL: In what way is the web page equipped with data? 

- The law prescribes the obligation of delivering information relating to the sales in enforcement or in bankruptcy procedures to the Croatian Chamber of Economy. Their experts have created two software programs for that purpose, of which the one regarding the sale in enforcement procedures is currently functional while only temporary there are still no technical conditions for the functioning of the program for publishing sales information in bankruptcy procedures. It was for that reason that we, the judges of the High Commercial Court, decided to support the Web Bankruptcy Project for the purpose of making all relevant information related to bankruptcy procedures led before commercial courts in whole Croatia available to wider public as soon as possible. In talks with the officials of the Croatian Chamber of Economy and Judge's Web, we've agreed to cooperate so that we could jointly and simultaneously contribute to the achievement of one single goal. The High Commercial Court supervises the work of 13 commercial courts with jurisdiction over bankruptcy procedures and they submit all required data pertaining to the sale in bankruptcy procedures, as well as any other required data, to the High Commercial Court which then sends them to Judge's Web for processing and final publishing on the web page.
SPECIALIZED PORTAL  Measures for a more efficient Court
"We are preparing to make the court registry public so that all the parties can at any time know the status of their cases, we are cooperating with lectors to fix the contents of our court decisions and to use correct Croatian legal terms. In general, we are making efforts to increase the overall quality of our decisions and make them available to the public in large numbers over the specialized portal Judge's Web. Together with commercial courts, we have adopted an integral plan for solving old cases, whose results can already be seen. We have decorated our work rooms and we are working on refurnishing the decayed and damaged parts of our building. We expect the land registry digitalization project to move in the near future since they're guests on the last floor of our building, whose availability will satisfy our chronic need for space for a long period" - explained Srdan Simac pointing out that this is only a part of the measures which should improve the Court's functioning

Caseload of bankruptcy judges 

NACIONAL: Bankruptcy is pretty infamous in the public since in the 90's many companies ended up in bankruptcy and after each procedure was dragged on for several years, and a large number of them was non-transparent and borderline legal. What is the reason for such long duration of bankruptcy procedures? 

-  I'm of the opinion that there was a kind of evolution in mastering special knowledge in the field of bankruptcy law. In the former social system, bankruptcy was almost unknown. First bankruptcy trustees had neither special knowledge nor experience for efficient performance of such a serious job, which additionally burdened bankruptcy judges. If one judge was in charge of 50 or 60 bankruptcies, it was hard to expect that he or she could control each of these procedures individually. This is the reason why, due to objective, but also subjective, reasons, sometimes it happened that this job was performed in a non-professional or illegal way. We can freely call this period the period of novelty and a kind of deficit in knowing all the rules and principles of leading bankruptcy procedures. The majority of bankruptcy procedures, specially the largest ones, are now behind us. It is still our problem that opening of the bankruptcy procedure generally comes too late and therefore a company which finds itself in trouble eats up the largest part of its substance even before the opening of the bankruptcy procedure, which causes most damage to its creditors.

Pending cases 

NACIONAL: One of the biggest problems of the Croatian judiciary as a whole is the vast number of long-lasting cases. Does this project have the potential to cause the decrease in the number of pending cases? 

-  The project in itself has no direct role in decreasing the number of cases in commercial courts, but indirectly it achieves just that. Its task, among others, is to speed up the process of selling bankruptcy assets so the creditors could be satisfied as soon as possible. By speeding up the sales, the duration of bankruptcy procedures is also shortened which will contribute to the decrease in the number of cases. Unfortunately, bankruptcy cases are linked to numerous civil proceedings, because they generate lawsuits in all cases of disputed claims reported in a bankruptcy, and then again bankruptcy procedures most often cannot be finalized before the disputes arising out of those lawsuits are resolved. This creates a magic circle which multiplies cases which greatly burden judges with their numbers. On the other hand, there is an interesting tendency of a decreasing number of cases appearing in front of first-instance commercial courts, which will in the near future, we hope, reflect itself to the workload of the High Commercial Court. The goal of the Court is to achieve promptness where all decisions on appeals will be resolved within a period of less than a year. If our plans are realized, we could accomplish this before the end of 2009.
"According to our plan, all pending cases should be solved by 2009"

NACIONAL: What are the reasons for the decreasing number of pending cases? 

-  I would like to believe that one of the reasons is the solving of an increasing number of cases out of court. Economic entities do not accept delays in their business activities, so increasingly they are independently resolving their disputes by settlement avoiding the currently inefficient judiciary. I'm a big supporter of mediation procedures as certainly the most appropriate method of dispute resolution. If the parties in a dispute decide to ask court protection, they can assume that it will take up to three years before a legally binding decision in their dispute is reached. However, the parties, especially economic entities, oftentimes don't even have a fraction of that time period. Mediation as an additional service offered by the courts actually started in Croatia as a complete novelty for the courts by the Commercial Court in Zagreb in March 2006. Something like that couldn't have been achieved without extraordinary efforts made by the judges of that court and its President Nevenka Markovic and several judges of the High Commercial Court. This project was developed independently with assistance from experts from Great Britain who assured us that we will be very successful if we settle 20 mediation cases in the first year. In ten months or so we assisted in the making of more than 70 settlements and around 15 lawsuits were withdrawn after the mediation procedure itself without any settlement.

NACIONAL: How satisfied are you with the current functioning of the High Commercial Court and has the situation which occurred during the selection of the President of this Court in 2006 settled? 

- The period of selecting the President of this court and the outstanding media attention directed at this selection have in that time left certain consequences which are felt even today. I hope that the division which occupied this court in relation to the selection during that period is now finally behind us. The process of president selection in certain courts sometimes creates animosities, confrontations, accusations, even insinuations which are not expected from judges who should be professionals of high morals and character. It seems clear that a judge who fights for that position at all costs should not become a court president, although that sometimes happens in practice. That position should always be occupied only by judges who have distinguished themselves with their work as judges, reputation and qualities and not by diminishing the qualities or defamation of other candidates. Last year was certainly the hardest in the history of this court. We have implemented numerous changes in work organization and started to deal with the oldest and in principle most complex cases, all as a part of joint activities which our whole judiciary is implementing in collaboration with the Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia and with strong support of the Ministry of Justice. We have strengthened the Registry Department, increased the number of court advisors and judges in first-instance courts temporarily assigned to this court, made great steps toward the standardization of judicial practice through expert working groups and publishing the selection of our court decisions. We are developing an entirely new model of self-education through advising all commercial courts and organization of special workshops from particular fields of law, establishing the court library for which we've collected a certain number of books and magazines, we introduced different colors of case files for different types of cases, installed a new program for the distribution of cases thus eliminating the human factor in their distribution, we are strengthening the IT department from which we expect many new solutions. With all of these measures we have established great grounds for our successful joint work in the future.

Nacional, 13.02.2007.

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