Ivana Maraš, Attorney at Law, Aleksić & Associates Law Firm

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Thanks to a dedicated team of experienced professionals, Aleksic & Associates is considered the leading Serbian law firm providing services in all areas of commercial, civil, labour and criminal law. Their clients most value their commitment, reputation, proactive approach and the highest ethical standards

And even under the conditions of the state of emergency, Aleksić’s office has continued to meet the needs of its clients 24/7, whilst respecting all the recommendations of the authorities. They believe that thanks to the timely and decisive measures taken, our country will recover quicker than some other countries.

Your law firm, as one of the largest and most renowned in Serbia, has not stopped working? How have you organised your work under the conditions of the state of emergency?

In accordance with the new situation caused by the Covid-19 virus pandemic, Aleksić & Associates has implemented and is implementing all measures essential to monitoring and maintaining business continuity. Our teams analyse the situation on a daily basis and, in accordance with daily changes, we apply all necessary measures in order to enable unhindered operations and protect the health of our clients and employees.

We would like to emphasise that, regardless of the state of emergency, our law firm has continued operating and continues to operate, and has not laid-off employees. Nor in the future will there be a reduction in our capacity and number of employees, regardless of how long the state of emergency lasts. Our law firm will continue operating responsibly and will always strive to meet the needs of its clients 24/7, whilst respecting all the recommendations of the authorities.

The National Bank of Serbia has decided on a moratorium, with no courts or public bailiffs working, but your office still strives to meet the needs of its clients 24/7, while respecting all the recommendations of government agencies. What are you being asked for the most right now?

In the domain of commercial law, clients approach us in search of the interpreting of legal issues related to the effect of force majeure on the fulfilment of contractual obligations and the impact on deadlines. Likewise, corporate clients are also interested in implementing emergency measures to mitigate the economic consequences of COVID-19 disease.

When it comes to labour law, the most common questions that clients ask the office regarding the state of emergency that has been introduced on the territory of the Republic of Serbia relate to: 1. the method of organising labour among employers; 2. Acts that it is essential to adopt; 3. Measures of occupational health and safety that should be taken; 4. The adequacy of using and referring employees to take annual leave; 5. The method of approaching employees who have been directed to apply isolation or self-isolation measures; 6. Methods of payment of earnings and other income from employment relations; 7. How to organise work from home; 8. The organising of work and approach to employees who are parents of children under 12; 9. The organising of work and approach to employees who belong to vulnerable groups, i.e. employees aged over 60 and employees with chronic illness.

All human rights guaranteed by the Constitution and international conventions must be respected even under the conditions of the state of emergency

What are all the challenges that companies are currently facing?

Almost all companies face many of the most diverse legal challenges, which are specific to each of the noted business sectors, which they are helped to overcome by our law office 24/7. There are numerous issues that are in the course of being resolved, of which we single out only one part. The most common requests are related to giving legal opinions and developing models of decisions and solutions related to the work of employees from home and compensation for employees who work from home, using annual leave and permits allowing the movements of employees.

Ivana Maraš

Part of the requests of business clients related to the issue of the fulfilment of contractual obligations from a contract in the economy that was concluded before the enforcement of the decision to declare a state of emergency and the possible delay of obligations.

In the area of real estate, especially leases in large shopping centres, which are closed, a question has been raised about the termination of lease agreements by tenants, who are unable to use their business premises, or possibilities reductions in rent etc.

How will the pandemic impact on the fulfilment of contractual obligations (force majeure)?

A pandemic and a state of an emergency certainly represent examples of force majeure, and thus the general basis for the exclusion of civil law liability for compensation for damages and other consequences of the inability to fulfil an obligation. The same applies to the administrative measures of state bodies that may lead to an objective legal impossibility of a client fulfilling their obligations.

It has been shown that we were able to shift many areas of life to the virtual world – paying bills, school and college teaching, business meetings, purchases and procurements, while there have also been online hearings via Skype… Is this our future?

The pandemic will certainly have lasting consequences in the economic and social spheres, some of which may not necessarily be negative. An example of such positive consequences is precisely the transferring of one part of business activities to the virtual world of online communication.

Our positive regulations already contain standards for electronic communication between a court and parties. Thus, in litigation proceedings, there are a number of rules that allow the referring of court filings by email, in accordance with a separate law, which is specified by the relevant standards.

Under normal circumstances, market competition is important to keep prices low, but a priority is now given to cooperation due to the Covid-19 crisis

Electronic submissions, i.e. on the website of the bodies of the procedure, as well as electronic filing, are also envisaged for criminal proceedings.

The current situation will help to “activate” the quoted provisions, i.e. for them to become more frequently applied in the practice of our courts, and will certainly also influence future legal amendments in the direction of the virtual world of communication, which will have a positive effect on reducing costs for parties seeking court protection for their violated or threatened subjective civil rights.

A few days ago, the Public Procurement Office came forward and provided further clarification regarding the conducting of public procurement procedures during the state of emergency. How would you comment on that?

The implementation of public procurement procedures during the state of emergency, during the crisis caused by the COVID- 19 virus pandemic, should be carried out in a swift and efficient manner, which is enabled by our positive regulations that are also indicated in the Notice regarding the implementation of public procurement procedures during the state of emergency, which was published on the website of the Public Procurement Administration on 24th March this year.

First of all, we point to the fact that all participants in public procurement procedures are obliged, even during the declared state of emergency, to act, in everything, in accordance with the provisions of the applicable Law on Public Procurement, including in terms of deadlines for the submission of tenders, the procedure publicly opening tenders, performing reviews of documentation on a conducted procedure by interested bidders and others.

Ivana Maraš

However, we emphasise that those placing orders have the possibility to procure goods, services and works to which the provisions of the PPL do not apply. Thus, certain procurements can be carried out without the procedure prescribed by law, respecting only its principles, primarily the principle of the economical spending of public funds. Procurements aimed at eliminating the consequences of disasters and accidents, to which this Law does not apply, are procurements made for the securing of basic living conditions during and immediately after the occurrence of a disaster and accident, related to the implementation of sanitary-hygiene conditions and sanitary-technical measures in the field, in settlements and facilities, aimed at preventing the spread of infectious diseases, epidemics and other adverse effects to the population and material assets.

Also closely related to public procurement is the issue of competition protection. What is your stance in terms of the issue of competition protection during the time of the pandemic?

Our firm tracks global and domestic experience in the field of competition protection, as well as press releases and the Competition Commission Bulletin. We note that the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) calls on competition bodies to use all of their mechanisms in the struggle against the negative impacts of Covid-19 on markets.

We currently most often provide legal opinions related to working from home and compensation for employees who work from home, using annual leave and permits allowing movements…

Under normal circumstances, market competition is required in order to keep prices low, but due to the Covid-19 crisis, which is disturbing markets worldwide, a priority is given to cooperation. Specifically, the widespread economic impact of the pandemic has forced national governments to strike a balance between protecting competition – so that prices do not become high – and granting exceptions to competition rules, in order to ensure the survival of entire economic sectors.

The state of emergency itself brings many challenges. How can one ensure respect for rights, in the broadest and narrowest sense, while it lasts? Does the state of emergency put to the test all those in charge of enforcing and controlling the implementation of all laws?

The very term “state of emergency” indicates that the state of society, including the legal system, has deviated from the ordinary state. In any case, all human rights guaranteed by the Constitution and international conventions must be respected, with deviations and restrictions only when necessary and commensurate with the purpose of introducing a state of emergency. State bodies of the executive government really have a great responsibility, as they are the most active in the state of emergency, while the legislature has reduced its activity. Moreover, courts and public prosecutors’ offices must take care to ensure the efficient and consistent implementation of all laws, as well as regulations adopted during the state of emergency.

How much time will we need for everything to get back to normal once all this is over? Do you think you will be able to realise all the plans that your firm set for this year?

Our estimation is that once the state of emergency ceases and the pandemic is suppressed, the situation will very quickly return to normal. We consider that our country, thanks to the timely and decisive measures taken, will recover faster than some other countries, especially the surrounding countries. The favourable economic environment created in the Republic of Serbia prior to the outbreak of the pandemic, as well as developed agricultural production, which gives us great comparative advantages, will contribute to a rapid return to normalcy and the recovery of the economy and the entire society.

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