Fraught with institutional uncertainty and political instability, times are difficult and uncertain in Montenegro, according to Jovovic Mugosa & Vukovic law office Managing Partner Vanja Mugosa.
“The situation in Montenegro has been somewhat unstable, of late,” Mugosa begins. “There is a high number of important state institutions, especially those performing judiciary functions, which are headed by ‘acting’ managers, or lack the required number of people for undisturbed operation.”
Mugosa explains that “the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Court, the High Council of the Judiciary, as well as the Supreme State Prosecutors office are all stuck in this limbo. The Constitutional Court is in danger of ceasing to function: only four of the prescribed seven judges’ seats are filled, and one of them could likely retire in September,” he says, “making the court unable to render any decisions.”
Coupled with the fact that the only commercial court in the country and a number of basic courts are facing similar issues, the wider Montenegrin legal landscape looks in peril, according to Mugosa. “For the Supreme State Prosecutor and members of the Judicial Council to be elected, a two-thirds majority is needed in the parliament's first round of voting. Barring that, the requirement is to then have three-fifths; this too has failed to materialize,” Mugosa elaborates.
And the state bar is facing similar issues. “The Montenegrin Bar Association's elective assembly should have been held in December 2020, to appoint the Chairman and other bodies of the chamber. That hasn't happened to date, with the Chairman's and Vice President's terms long ended and an incomplete Managing Board, and it is unknown when the assembly will actually happen,” Mugosa explains. “Such an overall condition of the country has had a major impact on lawyers, businesses, and investors,” he says. “Further, the Bar practice in Montenegro has been in a state of strike for more than two months in mid-2021,” he adds, “because of issues related to fiscalization and different interpretations of the lawyers’ status. Even though a joint working group has been formed with the Ministry of Finance, that issue has not been solved either.”
According to Mugosa, the current status quo has been “going on for a while. It was believed that the last three months – following the election of a new government – would see some much-needed changes and resolutions to the accumulated problems. Alas, political turmoil and instability prevented that.” The government, after just three months, fell to a vote of no-confidence on August 19. “We will either see a new one get elected or go straight for new extraordinary parliamentary elections,” he says. “Neither option will lead to resolving key problems and decreasing tensions. And the extraordinary parliamentary elections would be quite problematic – as only the Constitutional Court is in a position to deliberate on election matters – if the court fails to maintain at least four members, such matters could not be heard. It would be almost impossible to hold regular elections, with results acknowledged by all participants,” Mugosa explains. “It’s all a bit of a paradox.”
Speaking about the recently toppled government, Mugosa feels that it had dropped the ball in its first 100 days in office. “The government had ambitious goals, but they failed to focus on resolving the accumulated problems in the judicial system and its much-needed overhaul. That only exacerbated an already problematic and complex situation, threatening to hamper Montenegrin accession to the EU,” he says.
Finally, Mugosa says the overall status of the Montenegrin economy is “difficult to estimate, as it's the middle of the tourism season. With the sector accounting for almost a third of the country’s GDP, the current good projections might be deceptive.” He believes that it could be a tough autumn. “Looking at all the global problems – the energy crisis, the war, the rising inflation – it is likely that tough times are ahead.”