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Serbia Launches Court Rewards Program

We all know that people respond to incentives.
Even in the public sector – where pay and conditions are often fixed – there is a growing body of research demonstrating how public sector institutions can systematically motivate their staff to perform better.  (If you’re interested, see a sampling here, here, here, and here and of course the World Development Report: Mind, Society and Behavior.) 
Much depends on context, but some key lessons from the research include:
  1. Non-financial rewards can be more powerful than cash;
  2. Group rewards encourage team player behavior, especially among smaller teams;
  3. Rewards provide extra motivation to do socially desirable acts;
  4. Rewards for ‘most improved players’ motivate lower and middling performers.
  5. Rewards provide extra motivation when combined with recognition from senior figures and visibility from peers;
So in public institutions around the world, doctors, teachers and tax collectors are each responding to incentives offered through carefully-designed rewards programs.
So why not courts?
Courts have generally been late to this game.  They usually rely on rules to motivate their judges and staff.  (Deliver this judgment!  Meet this deadline!)   Leaders also draw on altruism to motivate their ranks. (Serve our citizens!  Uphold the rule of law!
Judiciaries have tended to shy away from positive incentives, on the basis that judges and court staff should not be offered inducements to do what is required of them by law. 
Over the last decade, many judiciaries have developed performance frameworks, with targets and monitoring tools.  But they too tend to be compliance-based (Submit this report! Meet these targets!)  Rarely have frameworks been linked with positive reinforcement or complemented by rewards for courts that meet or exceed the desired level of performance. 
In this regard, Serbia is at the forefront of innovation in incentivizing court performance.
With support from the World Bank, last month the Supreme Court of Cassation of Serbia launched its inaugural Court Rewards Program.  The Rewards Program is designed to motivate first instance courts to improve their efficiency and productivity in processing cases. 
In this the inaugural year, the Supreme Court issued two categories of awards: 
  • the largest improvement in backlog reduction and;
  • the largest improvement in the number of resolved cases per judge. 
By focusing on ‘most improved player’ awards, the program aims to motivate lower performing courts in order to increase consistency of justice services and lift average performance across the judiciary.  By measuring performance on a ‘per judge’ basis, the program controls for variation in court size, so smaller courts with fewer judges have an equal chance of success.
The choice of prizes is also designed to incentivize performance.  In each category, the 1st prize is 5,000 EUR, the 2nd prize is 3,000 EUR, and the 3rd prize is 2,000 EUR.  Prize money was aimed to be sufficiently attractive to motivate a court, but not so lucrative to create perverse incentives.  Winning courts can choose to spend their prize money on either:
  • ICT hardware (desktop computers, monitors, printers, scanners, servers etc.);
  • Office equipment (desks, chairs, conference tables, shelves, clocks, law books etc.); or
  • Materials for the beautification of the court (paint, plants, signage, materials for repairs etc.) 
Rules have been put in place to ensure that prizes are used for the benefit of the court as a whole.
Decisions were based on objective data from case management systems and have been tested and verified by the courts and the Bank. The process and results are on display here and here.
As if further motivation was needed, the awards also bestowed recognition and prestige.  Prizes were awarded at a gala ceremony and banquet at the Annual Conference of Judges in Serbia. The high-profile event was attended by the country’s judges, dignitaries and the international partners. The winning courts were interviewed on national TV.  By showcasing their success, they signal to their peers and the world that hard work can be rewarded.
Of course, these 6 courts in Serbia are not the only winners.  The ultimate winners of improved court performance are Serbian citizens and businesses who expect fast and fair service in their courts.
The Court Rewards Program has now been formally adopted in the Supreme Court’s Book of Rules.  In years to come, the Bank through the Multi-donor Trust Fund for Justice Sector Support will work with the judiciary to expand the Court Rewards Program to new categories and more rewards.
The Serbian Court Rewards program is generating interest in a range of countries.  If you’re interested in applying its lessons to your context, let’s discuss.


Georgia Harley

Senior Strategy Officer, International Development Association (IDA)

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