UPDATE: Legal Research in Serbia
By Linda Tashbook, Esq. and Marko Zivanov
Linda Tashbook is the Foreign International Comparative Law Librarian at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law's Barco Law Library, a Fulbright Senior Specialist, and an attorney in private practice. She is also the author of Family Guide to Mental Illness and the Law: A Practical Handbook (Oxford, 2019). Her Juris Doctor and Master of Library Science degrees are from the University of Pittsburgh.
Marko Zivanov is an attorney and a CPA at Schneider Downs & Co., Inc. He specializes in international tax and general tax matters. He obtained his LL.M. (2008) and JD (2010) degrees at the University of Pittsburgh and Master’s Degree in Public Policy and Management at Carnegie Mellon University. His Bachelor of Law degree is from University of Novi Sad (Serbia). He passed Serbia and Pennsylvania bars.
Published November/December 2020
(Previously updated in April 2011 and November/December 2015)
Table of Contents
The Republic of Serbia attained its current borders and government structure in October 2006 when a referendum approved its new constitution. It is the successor state to the short-lived Serbia-Montenegro and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Accordingly, it is a civil law system in which the Constitution, statutes, and ministerial laws along with learned commentary are the principle sources of law. This research guide highlights the very recent creation of this new, though successor, jurisdiction by emphasizing the country’s many electronic sources of current legal information — sites that are available thanks to Serbia’s law (translated by OECD) on free access to information. So transparent is the new Serbian government, you can even make direct requests for of government documents that are not on the website.
Note that most of the sources in this guide are published in Serbian. If you cannot read Serbian, you will need to copy and paste either the content or web addresses into an online translation tool.
2. Government Organization
The President of Serbia is elected democratically and serves as the head of state representing the country in international matters. The President also commands the military, promulgates laws, awards amnesties and honors, and nominates candidates for Prime Minister. The Prime Minister serves as the Head of Government, managing government executive functions within the country. The Parliament is a unicameral body called the National Assembly, which has 250 elected members.
The Constitution provides the right to propose laws relevant to their particular work to the Civic Defender and the National Bank of Serbia. The National Bank of Serbia’s regulations are posted on its website.
The law of the Civic Defender, also known as the Protector of Citizens or Ombudsman is available on Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)’s website (October 2005). The official Protector of Citizens website includes a short list of several legislative initiatives that have been translated into English. Use the Serbian version of the site to get the Protector of Citizens’ full list of legislative initiatives (notice that the language options are partway down the right side of the home screen.)
The court system operates under the authority of the Ministry of Justice and consists of the courts of general jurisdiction (Basic, High, Appellate and the Supreme Court of Cassation) and the courts of specialized jurisdiction (Administrative Courts, Misdemeanor Court and Misdemeanor Appellate Court, Commercial Court and Commercial Appellate Court). The Supreme Court of Cassation is the highest court in the Republic of Serbia. More details about organizational structure of courts in Serbia are available on the official webpage of the Supreme Court of Cassation. The Constitutional Court is an independent entity separate from the Ministry of Justice.
This is the official website of the Serbian Government. Note that there is also an E-government portal through which to interact with the government to obtain vital records, deal with automobile ownership issues, manage employment claims and apply to mediate employment disputes, obtain visas and related documents for travel to Serbia, and much more. The English version of this site is not as complete as the Serbian version, so you may need to use an internet translation tool to access some of the content.
Here is a particularly good list of links to the country’s administrative agencies and other government institutions.
Laws relating to government in Serbia include:
- Anti-Corruption Code
- U.S. AID Has an Informative Site about Serbia’s Government Accountability Initiative
- Ethical Code of Conduct for Local Officials
- Law on Civil Servants
- Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance
- The Government Act
- The Law on Political Parties
- The Law on Territorial Organization
3. International Law
The link to Serbia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs describes all of the country’s bilateral activities and agreements. Serbia’s participation in European treaties is recorded by the Council of Europe. This site also contains reports, adopted texts, and judgments regarding human rights in Serbia. Serbia’s EU Integration office maintains records about the country’s efforts to join the European Union.
Find UN documents involving Serbia by conducting an advanced search for sources with Serbia (and other more precise terms such as “environment”) among the title words using the Official Document Service database. These documents include records of the Serbian government’s interactions with the UN as well as reports on particular activities of the Serbian government, plus copies of drafts and final versions of resolutions and agreements to which Serbia is a party. The Baltic Yearbook of International Law, available in print and on Hein Online, publishes scholarly articles, case reports, and book reviews on Serbia’s regional and international law.
The Ministry of Justice (English version) cites all of the country’s bilateral and multilateral agreements, charts the still-applicable agreements between Yugoslavia and other nations, and provides PDF versions of new agreements between Serbia and its neighboring countries.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia prosecuted crimes committed under Serbia’s predecessor government as well as war crimes that took place during the Balkan War in the 1990’s. The tribunal has now concluded its mandate; however, the documents and recordings remain online. The Serbian Bar Association publishes an online directory of attorneys who practice in various fields of international law. The directory listings include each attorney’s specialty areas and foreign language fluencies.
4. Constitution, Statutes, Ministerial Laws
The 2006 Constitution of Serbia (Serbian language) is extensive with 206 articles setting forth detailed instructions for government organization and management. The English version is also available. See also the Law on Implementation of the Constitution.
Serbia’s enacted laws are available according to the year in which they were enacted via the National Assembly’s site or the Ministry of Justice site. Currently, Serbia doesn’t have a civil code. In 2010, the Serbian government formed a committee for codification of civil matter laws. The draft version of Civil Code (Serbian language) is available on the Paragraph Lex d.o.o. webpage. As of October 2020, the final and official version is still not enacted. One of the major laws within civil matters, the Law of Contract and Torts (English version) is available on the Ministry of Justice website. The criminal code is separately linked on the Ministry of Justice site.
The most convenient way to search for Serbian laws according to topic is to navigate through the executive branch ministries’ pages. Lexadin also links to some Serbian laws in subject order. Below are links to primary law sources from some of the ministries:
- The Ministry of Finance publishes all of the country’s financial laws including government budgets, all forms of taxes, auditing laws, etc. (Serbian language only).
- The Intellectual Property Office publishes the laws on patents, trademarks, geographic indicators, designs, copyrights, and integrated circuit protection. See also the related laws on research and innovation as published by the Ministry of Science.
- The Ministry of the Interior publishes the laws associated with emergency services, roads, and personal identification.
- Here are the related regulations of the Ministry of the Interior (including issues such as use of force by police and firearm regulations).
- The Ministry of Labor and Social Policy publishes the laws relevant to workplace safety, living with disabilities, gender equality, and other related matters. (Serbian language only). See also related content from the Ministry of Minority and Human Rights.
- Military laws are published by the Ministry of Defense.
The Official Gazette, Sluzbeni Glasnik, is Serbia’s most important legal record. This fee-based electronic subscription version, in which you can browse by date or topic, is a product of the country’s main legal publisher and is considered authoritative. The National Assembly publishes the acts that it has passed. The Administration for Joint Services of the Republic Bodies maintains a searchable database containing not only the national Official Gazette, but also ministerial, provincial, and local laws and regulations plus some tribunal decisions. For articles and commentary, in addition to the primary law, access the Ingpro- Propisi subscription database.
Ekspert is another fee-based provider and a searchable database (in Serbian) of or all laws, acts and court cases in Serbia.
5. Courts and Cases
There is a good introduction to the Serbian court system on the Mistry of Justice’s “Justice Serbia Webportal”. Here is a complete map of the courts. Lexadin also links to a good array of Serbian courts. In December 2010, the Ministry of Justice established the Judicial Academy, which provides basic competency training for new judges and continuing education for judges who are already on the bench. See the Directorate of Justice enforcementfor information about compliance with the Ministry of Justice’s court regulations and directives.
Serbian Courts: Criminal cases for crimes with penalties of no more than ten years of imprisonment and civil cases involving disputes between natural persons living within either a single municipality or a small cluster of municipalities are heard by the Basic Courts. Civil cases include property questions, family law, most ordinary employment issues, and other common disputes that arise between people, though there are also Magistrates Courts to efficiently dispense with the very smallest civil claims and minor crimes such as traffic offenses. The Belgrade First Basic Court is particularly active and has an informative web site. Here is the Second Basic Court in Belgrade.
Other Basic Courts:
- Jagodina Basic Court
- Kikinda Basic Court
- Kragujevac Basic Court
- Nis Basic Court
- Novi Sad Basic Court
- Pancevo Basic Court
- Pozarevac Basic Court
- Pozega Basic Court
- Smederevo Basic Court
- Subotica Basic Court
- Uzice Basic Court
- Vrsac Basic Court
Most of the cases appealed from the basic courts go to the High Courts, which have personal jurisdiction over cases coming from multiple closely located municipalities. The High Courts are also the courts of first instance for crimes by juvenile offenders, anti-government activities, and civil cases involving parties that are not natural persons, but which are recognized by the government as entities that have legal rights and obligations. These might be corporations, religious entities, or charities and the cases might involve such issues as intellectual property or labor unions. For more information see:
- High Court in Kragujevac
- High Court in Kraljevo
- High Court in Nis
- High Court in Novi Sad
- High Court in Pancevo
- High Court in Sabac
- High Court in Sombor
- High Court in Uzice
- High Court in Valjevo
- High Court in Zrenjanin
Cases appealed from the High Courts and occasionally from the Basic Courts are heard by the Appellate Court. This court also hears cases in which separate High Courts have reached conflicting decisions on a single point of law:
Commercial Courts are the courts of first instance for disputes involving: business organizations, business contracts, foreign investment, foreign trade, maritime law, aeronautical law, bankruptcy, economic offenses, and most copyright matters. The Belgrade Commercial Court, with sixty-five judges, is the largest court in the Commercial Court system. Appeals from the Commercial Courts are heard by the High Commercial Court. Serbia’s Chamber of Commerce arbitrates foreign trade disputes.
The Administrative Court decides cases arising from ministerial regulations. The Prime Minister designates or discontinues ministerial agencies as needed within his government administration and the issues handled by this court vary accordingly. Generally, the cases deal with taxation, elections, government property, finance and the national bank.
The Supreme Court of Cassation hears appeals out of the Appellate Court, the High Commercial Court, the Administrative Court, and the High Magistrates Court.
The Constitutional Court operates outside of the judicial branch to resolve questions involving government compliance with the constitution and interpretive conflicts among separate government institutions. See also the Law on the Constitutional Court and the Rules of Procedure for the Constitutional Court.
There are several subscription databases containing Serbian case law:
Laws Relating to Serbian Court Practice:
- The Law on Court Organization
- Court Procedure Rules
- The Law on Judges (Open the first link at the top of the list.)
- The Law on Public Prosecution
- Link to the Office of the Public Prosecutor.
- Criminal Procedure
- The Law on Arbitration (No. 46/2006; translated to English by Prof. Dr. Maja Stanivukovič) and the Law on Mediation (effective Jan. 1, 2015)
See the Directorate of Justice Enforcement (also in Srpski Latnica) for information about compliance with the Ministry’s regulations and directives. Serbia’s reciprocity rules, including recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments, the Laws on Taking Evidence Abroad and Serving Process on Extrajudicial Documents Abroad are referenced by the U.S. Department of State.
6. The Legal Profession
- The Judges Association of Serbia
- Serbian Bar Association
- Local bar associations: Belgrade, Vojvodina
- Authoritative Legal Newsletter – Pravni Informator. The full text is only available by subscription, but article summaries are free and easily browsed.
- Serbia’s Code of Legal Ethics