‘The illegal trade in justice was a very complex business,’ said Papaligouras, promising reforms

The number of judges and prosecutors allegedly involved in corruption has risen dramatically lately. Will you get to the bottom of this, no matter how painful the process is for justice itself? Is there still a long way to go, or is the end in sight? Certainly it is a painful process for the judiciary, society itself and for me personally. The spectacle of judges being sent to jail or dismissed with the taint of corruption on them is sad and shocking for all of us. But catharsis is the only way to restore public faith in the justice system and respect for its functionaries. We will follow this path unswervingly, no matter how much time and persistence it takes. Every judge who has betrayed (his or her) oath will be punished… That is what both the state and the justice system want now. We took instant, decisive legislative initiatives to equip justice with measures and means in the fight for its own catharsis. The symbolic first step in our bill reclassifies bribery of a judge from a misdemeanor to a felony. And every day we demonstrate the political will to support and help the leadership of the judiciary in its task of reform. There is not – nor can there be – a timetable for this endeavor. I hope it will be completed as soon as possible, but as you see, every day new cases come to light, new gray areas are revealed. It shows that the illegal trade in justice was a very complex business. That’s why we are determined to get to the bottom of it; there are no half measures when it comes to catharsis. Have there been excesses and mistakes in the cleanup operation? How can the climate of security and composure be reinstated and what do you say to those who believe that the whole operation is aimed at the judiciary? What would destroy the judiciary would be not to have a cleanup. If the state and justice system dragged their feet in tackling corruption, all judicial functionaries would be held collectively responsible in the eyes of the public. Instead, I believe that each time a judge who is found to have betrayed their oath is punished, it makes the judiciary look cleaner in the eyes of the public. The more decisively the unwholesome elements are removed, the healthier the judiciary becomes. I believe catharsis is not only an obligation, but is also in the interest of all judicial functionaries, the majority of whom are clearly honest and so have no need to feel insecure. Our effort is being made in the name of the public and is in favor of honest judges. Is it true that that the general atmosphere has had an effect on courts in the imposition of stricter penalties and longer detentions? How do you see this side effect of the cleanup? It is a fact that at the beginning of the cleanup some judges associated the notion of personal integrity with excessive severity, to the disadvantage of ordinary people. The attempted cleanup is not intended as greater severity toward those facing trial, nor is the integrity of a judge evaluated by the harshness of the penalty they impose. The law is only respected when it is humane. I think that in this I have expressed the view of the judges themselves. And I have a feeling that a balance is being restored to the administration of justice as, sooner or later, the pendulum swings back. Supreme Court President Romylos Kedikoglou complained publicly about three instances where prosecutors handled pending cases inappropriately, indirectly attributing blame. Do you know which cases he was talking about? Has he informed you about them? All three relate to cases under investigation. They are being investigated by independent justices who will shed light on all the factors, as happens with every case that looks shady or raises questions. The president of the Supreme Court demonstrated the will of the justice system not to allow any suspicion to be dismissed. What caused corruption among judges? At a general meeting of the Prosecutors’ Union of Greece, its president, Sotiris Bayias, spoke about operational and supervisory gaps, upgrading the supervision process (currently there is one supervisor for 250-300 judges), and a change in the mass of regulations referring to the functions and development of judges. In fact, there were glaring gaps in the supervision system and in the monitoring mechanisms of the justice system in general. For some years, monitoring of judges’ assets had become lax, degenerating into a spot check. Inspectors usually did only a superficial annual review of judges, evaluating a small number of decisions chosen by those under review themselves. The justice system did not prove impermeable to the general climate of moral inertia and the weakening of state mechanisms that has prevailed in recent years. We have faced the situation head on. Our new law boosted the supervisory mechanism by creating posts for auxiliary inspectors and designating supervisory examining judges for large courts, and also the necessary infrastructure, We also activated checks on judges’ assets and allowed declarations from previous years to be examined. In addition to all that, we have restored moral order to the sphere of justice. The political will of the new government marks a change of era in the justice system, which is already a great stride forward.