NEWS

‘Everyone is equal before the law and no one should enjoy impunity’

One of the major problems in the justice system are the the thousands of outstanding cases that have accumulated. For a case to come to court it usually takes 18 months. How can you expect to deal with this realistically? It is true that delays in the system – mainly in the first instance criminal and civil courts – almost amounts to a denial of justice. It takes two to three years for a definitive ruling, five to six for a final one and seven to eight for an irrevocable one. At the moment, appeals against rulings by the Three-Member Criminal Appeals Court are not scheduled until 2007. So, the process of justice moves so slowly that it often negates itself, because its institutions possess neither the means nor the infrastructure to do their job properly. This problem is an immediate priority for us. We will deal with it by drawing up a specific action framework as provided for in the government program: by speeding up the construction of new buildings, increasing the number of administrative courts of first instance and distributing judicial and administrative staff more rationally. We also plan to extend computer links to cover the entire system right up to the recording of court proceedings, and to downgrade what are generally regarded as minor crimes to the category of administrative offenses. We also plan to set up a judicial police force under a senior judiciary official. We are also open to discussing the implementation of proposals from members of the judiciary themselves. I invite them to join me in stirring the muddy waters in a sector that is so important for the quality of our culture and our democracy. You said on taking office that you would lay particular emphasis on the independence of the justice system. Do you think there should be legislation to achieve this end? I don’t think that the legislative framework is as much to blame as the lack of political will. We want a justice system that is not influenced by state or party, one that is free and respected, founded on the personal and functional independence of the judges. Our main goals in this direction are the choice of the judiciary leadership by the judges themselves – based on seniority and merit – and the upgrading of the the Supreme Judiciary Council by increasing its powers so it can more fully ensure the independence of the system. Do you think that the phenomenon has dealt a blow to the credibility of the justice system? If so, is it because of outside intervention or is it a question of internal dysfunctioning? Intervention – both political and other – from the outside definitely harms the system’s credibility. They are another form of the entangled interests that have corroded all institutions on which our democracy is founded. So the main condition for defending the justice system is still the existence of political will. Any weak links can only be strengthened if the judge believes that the State really wants him or her to be free of influence, absolutely scrupulous, blind and deaf to every kind of pressure or intervention from whatever quarter. Will delays in cases such as disputes over the land register or the stock market bubbles be punished? As I said earlier, delays undermine the public’s confidence in the system and to some extent the value of court rulings. If this is true for lesser cases, it obviously also holds for more serious cases that have to do with crucial issues in public life. Of course, court briefs of this nature require a more detailed investigative procedure and careful documentation, therefore they do need to take more time. But this does not mean that the judicial process should give the impression of wasting time. As I have only just assumed my duties, I am not about to engage in a witch hunt over any delays. Nevertheless, I believe that the declared commitment of our government and Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis personally, to have a justice system that is strict, free of influence and absolutely scrupulous, will remove any shadow of doubt about any intervention and will no doubt facilitate the work of the judiciary. How will you ensure equality before the law? Usually, it is ordinary people who bear the brunt of the law, while the more powerful appear to enjoy a kind of immunity. It is a matter of principle that the dispensation of justice is the responsibility of its independent executors. It is self-evident that all citizens are equal before the law. No one, no matter how powerful, can claim impunity. On the contrary, I would say that ordinary people in some cases are treated with more leniency, according to the spirit of the law. The more powerful have a duty not to set a bad example. Of course, I am aware that judges are only human and every person has their own failings and resistances. However, they should know that real equality before the law and the rule of law in practice are an expression of the State’s implacable will today. The judiciary has the ability – and the right – to carry out their duty free of influence. New Democracy has said it will fight corruption by upgrading, among other things, the role of the Audit Council to make it the main control mechanism for the wider public sector and for all those handling public funds. What legislative amendments will you make? My main concern is not to make any premature proclamations, particularly regarding specific measures, before the appropriate preliminary work has been done, so that words can be accompanied by deeds. Upgrading the role of the Audit Council as a guarantor of the proper management of pubic funds is indeed a main priority for New Democracy in restoring transparency to public life. So first of all, upgrading the Audit Council is part of a totality of measures – involving other ministries as well – and secondly, it presupposes preliminary work that is not yet complete. We will abide by our commitments, but only God was capable of creating the world in seven days! Finally, a personal question. Before you were appointed to the Justice Ministry, had you thought of any other ministerial post? What are the disadvantages and advantages of your life now? Every politician is examined according to his knowledge and experience before being appointed to certain positions and making a certain contribution. For myself, the justice sector not only presents a challenge, but it is a great honor that the prime minister has bestowed on me, in assigning me such a crucial area of responsibility. Being made a minister changes everything in a politician’s life – there are no more set working hours or free time, entertainment, or ways to escape routine. Even more so when one is member of a government that has proclaimed a new beginning. Circumstances require all of us – literally – to deny ourselves, to devote body and soul to producing creative work in order to live up to society’s increased demands and the needs of the times. I do not enjoy power. I have dedicated myself to a cause, one that is a consequence of the responsibility I have been given.