The Greek judicial system in critical condition

By Elena Panaritis*

A well-functioning judiciary with an efficient court system is central to effective access to justice. This is not the case with the Greek judiciary, where cases usually proceed with substantial delay, multiple adjournments, and suboptimal guarantees of due process for victims and witnesses. The past few months have been marked by several court decisions in Greece that have raised eyebrows in the country and the European Union. We know from international experience that public trust in the system, risks being gravely undermined. Cases that should have been dealt with elsewhere -or not dealt with at all- are going to court and not being resolved early or resulting in mistrial, while magistrates and judges seem to be influenced by the current turbulent economic, social and political conditions rather than the actual facts presented.

Few will deny that the Greek judiciary is slow, and therefore not suitable for an EU member state. The penal code, currently under reform, dates back to the Bavarian Law Code (19th century). While Germany reformed its judicial system decades ago, in Greece judicial reforms are moving rather slowly. Distinguished jurists are being critical, pointing out the immediate need of reforms, underlining current underperformance of judges and system failures. Despite not being the general rule, there are cases in which prosecution or court decisions are seriously influenced by media requirements and political necessities.

The structured bonds case

One of the most representative cases is the so-called structured bonds case. At the end of May, a rather unconventional court decision was issued causing concern within the business/investment community. The unreasonable, for homo economicus, verdict dealing with investments by Greek pension funds in structured bonds came after the case was characterized by the press as scandalous, exposing the judicial system’s bias to the media. Greek judges’ lack of technical knowledge meant they failed to understand globally accepted market practices, such as technical aspects of the transaction, profit amounts, and the simple concept of the investment risk intrinsic in such financial transactions. In the meantime  the  UK and US judicial authorities had deemed the same transactions as legal.

Jurists have stressed on multiple occasions that Greece’s judiciary is in critical need of reform, it should become a modern, effective judiciary in line with international best practice and EU standards. It is very important to engage Greek judges to continuous and life-long in-depth technical education. Failing to provide such knowledge training undermines the efforts and prospects of reviving the Greek state, together with growing its economy to robust and sound levels.

*Elena Panaritis is an institutional economist