Bid to accelerate justice

A set of measures to overhaul Greece’s lumbering judicial system and creaking penal regime, which includes stopping some minor offenders from going to court and freeing prisoners serving short sentences, was made public by Justice Minister Anastassis Papaligouras yesterday. «I hope this draft law will not be regarded as a pebble cast into the stagnant waters of Greek justice but as exactly what it is: a foundation for change in the time it takes for justice to be dispensed,» said Papaligouras upon presenting his 25-step plan. Painting a bleak picture of a judicial system riddled with bureaucracy, the minster gave the waiting list at the Athens Court of Appeals as an example of current inefficiency. He said there were 23,500 cases outstanding and that a ruling is, on average, issued 7.5 years after the alleged crime has taken place. He was equally scathing about the condition of the penal system, which he labeled as «tragic,» claiming that Greek jails were currently housing 8,500 prisoners – 3,000 more than their maximum capacity allows. He added that the random way in which inmates were locked up, often casting first-time offenders in with hardened criminals, was making jails «more like schools of crime than correctional centers.» The draft law, which will be submitted to Parliament within the next few weeks, was drawn up by a special panel made up of legal experts. Among its proposals is to do away with criminal prosecution of people who owe up to 1,000 euros to the State and drivers who are guilty of minor traffic offenses. Rather than being dragged through the courts, these offenders will face fines. The bill also envisages a simplification and speeding up of the divorce process. Another proposal is to release some prisoners who are serving sentences for misdemeanors. Those jailed for two years will be let go if they have served a quarter of their sentence and inmates with longer sentences will have to see out a third of their term before being released. Papaligouras claimed this measure would free up 1,700 spaces in Greek jails. The maximum sentence in cases of accidents that result in multiple deaths due to the negligence of the guilty party will be extended from 5 to 10 years under the proposed law. Courts will also sit for an extra hour, until 4 p.m.