It is a long-established practice in Serbia for companies and individuals to request legal opinions on interpretation of various legislation from the government departments competent for enforcing the legislation in question.
For a fee (around 10 EUR for an individual and around 100 EUR for a company) the Ministry will issue a legal opinion i.e. an answer to a question arising from a real life situation relating to application of a certain provision from a law or a regulation.
Such opinions serve as a guideline for the future for the requesting party. However, although it is not a legally binding act, from the moment it was issued, the competent ministry and especially the inspection authorities start considering it as such. The opinions also apply to third parties who had no opportunity to be informed thereof. The practice of publishing these opinions is scarce and is not formally regulated.
Serbian legal databases compile and publish these opinions, but as the number of opinions is ever-growing (it is estimated than in average 22 opinions are issued each day), the need for regulation and codification of these opinions is increasing. Both legal and business communities are requesting to regulate the legal status of the opinions (e.g. the date of their coming into force, publishing…). Arguably the most problematic aspect of such a legal opinion is that it cannot be challenged in court. The only way to defend oneself from an unfavorable opinion is to fight the administrative act based on such opinion, which usually proves to be difficult because the Administrative court rarely challenges the substance of administrative acts, but only the legality of the procedure in which they were rendered.
There are no safeguards preventing conflicting opinions and the bureaucratic inertia often leads to administrative authorities using opinions stemming from legislation that has in the meantime been amended or even repealed.
Still, this institution is very useful in day to day business practice. An opinion can provide a certain level of predictability in the dense forest of Serbian legislation and practice. If the question is precisely worded, the opinion may give a precise and definitive answer useful to the company’s management or legal department. However, a vague question will most often result in a simple reiteration of the provisions of the law, or even worse in an even more vague answer leaving more, not less dilemma.