Milan Marinovic, the former head of the Belgrade Misdemeanor Court, has been appointed the new Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection at the request of the reigning Serbian Progressive Party.
His election was characterized by attacks by the ruling bloc on the previous commissioner Rodoljub Sabic, whose term expired at the end of last year, which could be also seen as a message to Marinovic.
Marinovic was nominated by the parliamentary Committee on Culture and Information which received three nominations.
Nevena Ruzic, who worked in the Commissioner’s office for ten years, was nominated by the Democratic Party, the Modern Serbia Party and the Social Democratic Party-People’s Party caucus. Several dozen NGOs supported her nomination.
Attorney Bojan Milosavljevic from Veliko Gradiste, an obvious outsider, was nominated by the coalition partners of the Progressive party: the Movement of Socialists-the People’s Peasant Party and the United Peasants’ Party.
Representatives of the government have accused Rodoljub Sabic of being political. He got on their bad side in numerous scandals like Savamala or, at the end of his term, when he tried to find out how the Serbian Progressive Party obtained the addresses of pensioners whom Aleksandar Vucic addressed in thank you letters.
During the interim period in which Sabic’s mandate expired and the procedure for appointing his successor had not been launched yet, Progressive party whip Aleksandar Martinovic said that the party’s proposal would be “the exact opposite” to Sabic, whom he described as being an opposition politician “impersonating” a Commissioner.
That Marinovic was gearing up for a new duty could be seen at the start of the year when he said in an interview that he would not run again for the post of president of the Misdemeanor Court in Belgrade and that he felt that he could be of greater use in some other position. He did not say which function he was planning on running for.
In the biography that he provided together with his nomination for Commissioner, he said that as a misdemeanor judge he acted in court proceedings conducted according to the law on free access to information of public importance and the law on protecting personal data.
He also said that as the veteran president of the Misdemeanor Court in Belgrade he acted as a responsible person according to requests for free access to information of public importance.
Marinovic told the Committee on Culture and Information, unlike representatives of the government who criticized Sabic, that he had had good cooperation with the Office of the Commissioner and Sabic personally.
Open Society Foundation President Milan Antonijevic, who supported Nevena Ruzic, said that time would tell whether Marinovic’s approach was merely decency or hinted at a “revolution,” given the authorities’ attitude toward the previous commissioner.
Sabic said that he knew Marinovic as a “well-mannered man, with considerable knowledge in his field,” but that he had won the better candidate nominated by the ruling party and that it remained to be seen why the authorities consider him being a good choice from their point of view.
“Someone might calculate with the not so small number of decisions by his misdemeanor court which enabled the activation of the statute of limitations in almost all cases when the commissioner launched proceedings against ‘elite’ representatives of the government (Mali, Risticevic, Loncar,...) and in some scandalous acquittals. Yet I think that one should not forget that he was the president of the court and not a judge, and that the ‘elite’ could ‘solve problems’ bypassing him and resorting to ‘other connections’”, Sabic added.
Marinovic responded to Sabic’s compliments by saying that they had had good communications, that he, Sabic, had worked fairly well and had “advanced the office” of the Commissioner, but that there would be some differences as he would not have a twitter account.
“My wish is to completely – as much as possible, and I hope I will be able to – shut out the influence of any kind of politics on the Commissioner’s office, but at the same time that means that it is honest for excluding my own influence,” Marinovic told Prva TV, adding that it was not his job to judge whether Sabic had used his office for political promotion but the job of “those who deal in politics.”
Explaining why he thought that he would be bringing new quality to the service, Marinovic said that he believed that he had had the opportunity for a broader insight in his previous job than the Commissioner in both the good and bad sides of the laws and their interpretation and implementation.
Marinovic’s election prompted suspicions on the side of the opposition. New Party leader Zoran Zivkovic said that the authorities’ battle against independent institutions was being brought to an end, while Dveri Movement leader Bosko Obradovic said that whoever was appointed by the Serbian Progressive Party was its yesman.
Recently, before Marinovic’s election, the public learned of his name after one of the One out of the Five Million protests ended up in the building of the Serbian Broadcasting Corporation. Reporters besieged him for a statement as several students had been expressly punished for misdemeanors but then quickly let out of prison in Padinska Skela by decision of the Misdemeanor Court of Appeals.
This coincided with a statement by President Aleksandar Vucic that the perpetrators of the “violence” would be punished. Shortly thereafter Vucic said that he hoped they would be freed, which the expert public saw as political interference with the justice system.
The public’s attention, at least its opposition part, was recently turned to the misdemeanor punishment of the Let’s Not Drown Belgrade Initiative. The NGO released a statement saying that one of its activists was summoned to serve a 20-day prison sentence for organizing protests against the demolition in Sava Mala after he did not pay a fine.
Marinovic’s biography shows that, as he put it, “in a way, I am a child of the justice system,” as he had been in the system since being an intern.
He obtained a degree from the Belgrade School of Law and became an intern in the office of a city misdemeanor judge in 1994. In 1998 he was appointed a misdemeanor judge by decision of the government.
Asked if he would be independent, given that he was nominated by the ruling party, he said that the law stated that candidates for Commissioner are nominated by caucuses and also cited his biographical experiences.
Marinovic recalled he was appointed the head of the Misdemeanor Court by a majority in Parliament in 2014 and as acting chief in 2010, when “another structure was in power.” As of mid-year this year he has served as president of the court.
He claims that he has never been pressured by the government while at the head of the capital city’s Misdemeanor Court.
He also said that he had not agreed to be the Commissioner so as to conduct someone’s political will and that he was only there for the citizens.
At the start of 2010, Zoran Pasalic was named the acting head of the Higher Misdemeanor Court. He became the ombudsman two years ago, replacing Sasa Jankovic, who had a similar reputation with authorities as Sabic.
As engagements of importance to his career Marinovic said that he was president of the Main Board of the Association of Judges of Misdemeanor Courts, a member of the Justice Academy’s Program Council, and a deputy member of the Commissioner for conducting the National Judicial Reform Strategy for 2013-2018.
He also stated in his biography that he was a member of a group charged with drafting a working version of the Judicial Development Strategy for 2019-2024. He also stressed that he had been part of the working group for drafting a law on protecting whistleblowers, which he said had been described as one of Europe’s best.
His biography on the Misdemeanor Court’s website states that as a representative of misdemeanor court judges during 2009 he was a member of a working group for composing the rules and criteria for electing judges in Serbia.
He was also a member of a working group for composing amendments and supplements to the Law on Preventing Violence and Unbecoming Behavior at Sports Events. He said that “while we punish children, the leaders of fan groups are in VIP seats.”
Marinovic was born in Valjevo on Feb. 13, 1963. He is married and has one child.