On 13 November 2007, the main hearing was held before the Požega County Court in the trial case No. K-22/00 against the defendant Predrag Gužvić. The defendant was indicted for committing in Pakrac in 1993 a war crime against civilians under Article 120, paragraph 1 of the OKZRH. His case was separated from the case conducted against Petar Baždar and Branko Bjelan. Petar Baždar was sentenced to 7 years in prison and he died in prison while serving the sentence. Criminal proceedings against Branko Bjelan were dismissed since the Požega County State Attorney’s Office dropped charges against him.
The trial was conducted in absence of the defendant Predrag Gužvić.
The same day, following the conclusion of evidence procedure, the Court pronounced a first-instance verdict (before appeal) in which it found the defendant guilty and sentenced him to 7 years in prison.
The Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia, at the session of its Panel held on 30 January 2008, quashed the Požega County Court’s verdict and reversed the case for a retrial.
On 5 December 2008, the Požega County Court passed a decision according to which the proceedings against Predrag Gužvić were dismissed on the basis of applying the provisions of General Amnesty Act.
The Požega County State Attorney’s Office issued the Indictment No. KT-15/97 of 23 June 1997.
Despite both written and verbal kind requests by war crime trial monitors, the Požega County Deputy Attorney refused to approve issuance of a copy of the indictment to our monitors.
judge Žarko Kralj, President
judge Jasna Zubčić, Member
lay-judge Ivica Pavlović, Member
lay-judge Slađana Pejaković, Member
lay-judge Dragica Trupina, Member
Prosecution: Krešimir Babić, the Požega County Deputy State’s Attorney
Defendant: Predrag Gužvić
Defence: Mira Matić-Primorac, a lawyer practicing in Požega
Injured party: Stjepan Picek
OBSERVATIONS BY MONITORS
Main hearing in the case K-22/00 against the defendant Predrag Gužvić was held at the County Court in Požega on 13 November 2007. At the end of evidence procedure, concluded on the same day, the Panel of the Požega County Court, presided by judge Žarko Kralj, publicly announced the verdict which found Predrag Gužvić guilty and sentenced him, in his absence, to a 7-year prison sentence for the criminal act of war crime against civilians, stated in Article 120, paragraph 1 of the OKZRH, committed in Pakrac in 1993. According to the verdict, the defendant, in his capacity as a member of the paramilitary formations, was found guilty of arresting the civilian Stjepan Picek in Pakrac in May 1993, contrary to regulations of the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, which Gužvić had done together with Petar Baždar and Branko Bjelan, thus violating the regulations of international law during the armed conflict by committing an illegal arrest of the civilian. This particular case was separated from the case conducted against Petar Baždar and Branko Bjelan. Petar Baždar had been sentenced to a 7-year prison sentence and he died while serving his sentence, while criminal proceedings against Branko Bjelan were dismissed since the Požega County State Attorney′s Office dropped all charges against Bjelan.
During the trial, two major violations of the criminal procedure were made; one violation was made regarding the constitution of the Court panel; and the other one regarding a right of the defendant to the defence.
Already at the very beginning of the main hearing, a major violation of criminal procedure, stated in Article 367, paragraph 1, item 1 of the Criminal Procedure Act, was made. Namely, the Court Panel was constituted of 2 judges and 3 lay-judges, although the Republic of Croatia had promulgated the Law on Application of the Statute of the International Criminal Court and Prosecution of Criminal Acts against International War Law and Humanitarian Law in 2003, therefore, the mentioned law has been valid for 4 years. Article 13, paragraph 2 of the mentioned law explicitly states that the county court councils, which conduct trials for criminal acts of war crime, are constituted of 3 (three) judges who have a previous experience in dealing with the most complex cases. It is expected that the court – which deals with criminal proceedings for war crimes- actually applies the law which is currently a valid law in the Republic of Croatia.
It is worth mentioning that neither the person representing the indictment, nor the defence lawyer, had any objections to such a method of constitution of the court council.
2. During the evidence procedure, witness-injured party Stjepan Picek was heard; documents suggested and listed in the indictment were read out in the courtroom; and the document K-27/99 was inspected (i.e. the defence plea of Branko Bjelan was read out). In the moment when the injured party, Stjepan Picek, a sole witness and also the key witness to corroborate the indictment, was giving his testimony, Mira Matić-Primorac, a court-appointed defence lawyer from Požega, left the courtroom without approval by the Panel President, and the reason for her absence (as we got to know it later on) was her attending a hearing at the Municipal Court in Požega that was held at the same time as the hearing at the County Court. The hearing at the County Court was continued, although the President was supposed to adjourn the hearing according to Article 306 of the Criminal Procedure Act. It is our opinion that the mentioned conduct presents a major violation of criminal proceedings, as stated in Article 367, paragraph 3, since the Court violated the defendant’s right to defence during the hearing, which could have had an influence on verdict.
With such a conduct, the defence lawyer expressed her lack of respect for Court’s authority. However, it is particularly worrying that her conduct might have caused irreparable damage to the defendant. Namely, Article 7 of the Law on the Legal Profession, states that lawyers are obliged to provide legal assistance in a diligent manner and that it is a lawyer’s duty to use all available legal instruments, in accordance with her/his own discretion, which may assist the party to whom she/he provides legal counseling.
Practice of conducting war crime trials in absence of the accused, as in this particular example, has attracted a lot of criticism, and rightly so, since it is unacceptable that such practice is repeated still in 2007. Furthermore, such a court practice raises an issue of courts’ competence i.e. whether all the county courts in the Republic of Croatia should actually have competence in war crime trials, and whether they are able to have the competence, especially regarding their present capacities!?
We would like to point to the fact that the Požega County Attorney’s Office, with no explanation, and after several written requests, and a personal request by a monitoring team member addressed to Krešimir Babić, Požega County Deputy Attorney, has denied the monitors to obtain a copy of the indictment. The bill of indictment, after it becomes legally valid, it also becomes a public document, therefore, we believe that there was no justification for such a conduct. At the same time, we would like to remind that, according to the Constitution, as well as according to the Act on the State Attorney’s Office, the State Attorney’s Office represents, with its actions, the Republic of Croatia, and consequently, all its citizens.
16 November 2007
The Požega County Court’s Panel, presided by judge Žarko Kralj, following the conclusion of evidence procedure, publicly announced the verdict on 13 November 2007. In the verdcti, the Court found Predrag Gužvić, in his absence, guilty and sentenced him to 7 (seven) years in prison for committing in Pakrac in 1993 a war crime against civilians under Article 120, paragraph 1 of the OKZRH. According to the verdict, the defendant, in his capacity as a member of the paramilitary formations, was found guilty of arresting the civilian Stjepan Picek in Pakrac in May 1993, contrary to regulations of the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, which Gužvić had done together with Petar Baždar and Branko Bjelan, thus violating the regulations of international law during the armed conflict by committing an illegal arrest of the civilian.
The Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia, at the session of its Council held on 30 January 2008, upheld the appeals lodged by the defendant Petar Gužvić and by the State Attorney. Accordingly, it quashed the verdict and reversed the case to the first instance court for a retrial.
The Požega County Court’s verdict was quashed due to essential violation of the criminal procedure provisions under Article 367, paragraph 11, item 1 of the Criminal Procedure Act, because the main hearing was held before the panel of judges comprising two judges and three lay-judges. However, for conducting the aforementioned trial, the competent council must be constituted of 3 (three) county court judges.
The decision of the Supreme Court see, in Croatian, here.
The Požega County Court received back the case from the Supreme Court. On 5 December 2008, it dismissed the proceedings in the Petar Gužvić case by applying the provisions of General Amnesty Act.
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