New bid to speed up court system

In the latest bid by authorities to speed up the process of dispensing justice in Greece?s woefully slow judicial system, Justice Minister Miltiadis Papaioannou on Thursday heralded 80 new legislative reforms covering the country?s criminal, civil and administrative courts.

It currently takes the average case nearly 10 years to get to court while some plaintiffs have waited as long as 27 years for a final ruling. Around a million legal suits are pending in the country?s courts.

Greece is ranked fourth out of the 47 member states of the Council of Europe in terms of the number of convictions it has received from the European Court. Since 1997, Greece has been obliged to pay 8.4 million euros for unjustifiable delays in the dispensation of justice.

The onus of the new reforms is on the transfer of all documents into electronic form and the abolition of the time-consuming process of reviewing court decisions.

The extension to the working hours of the country?s courts, which has been on the cards for years, is another goal, with courts set to remain in session an additional two hours, until 5 p.m.

Another reform turns a series of crimes — causing minor bodily harm, verbal abuse and defamation — into misdemeanors, which will theoretically free up the country?s criminal courts.

Thursday?s initiative by Papaioannou — the latest by a succession of ministers over the years — was unfortunately timed, coinciding with the publication of a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) which concludes that Greece is incapable of carrying out the deep-reaching institutional and structural changes that have been demanded by its foreign creditors.

According to the 127-page report, communication between the different government departments is virtually nonexistent and there are no comprehensive records. ?In cases where coordination does happen, it is ad hoc, based on personal initiative and knowledge, not supported by structures,? the report says. The only possible solution, it concludes, is ?a big bang? approach, advocating a much more thorough shake-up of Greece?s public administration.

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