Attempting to clean up Greek justice system

There is no timetable for cleaning up the justice system, and there will be no half measures, Justice Minister Anastassis Papaligouras told Kathimerini in a frank interview. He spoke of the grim atmosphere caused by the crisis in the system, fed by revelations of judicial misbehavior as well as ongoing allegations of more problems. So far, the cleanup operation has resulted in the dismissal of 13 judges, the imposition of temporary leave on another nine – a measure that will be imposed on another three or four individuals – the detention of two, the resignation in the face of prosecution by three, the prosecution of 17 and disciplinary procedures against 40. Nobody is prepared to hazard a guess at the number of judges who will eventually be investigated, as the probe is still in progress and has been broadened to take in administrative justice and civil cases, where it seems the tentacles of the para-judicial circles have found purchase. «It shows that the trade in justice was a very complex business,» said the minister, who insisted that the cleanup is in the interests of the judiciary overall. «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,» he said, sending a clear message about cases of major interest that are in danger of being dismissed, warning that «the justice system (will not allow) any suspicion to be dismissed.» Papaligouras admits that there were supervisory gaps in the justice system and cases of corruption in the judiciary where the requisite strictness was not shown and where there were delays or official bodies failed to deal with cases. «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,» he noted, adding that the new law strengthened monitoring mechanisms. Regarding the huge problem of delays in the administration of justice, the minister presented statistics showing that significant steps have been taken to expedite the process. The minister is drafting a new law to speed up administrative justice trials, where the situation is dire. Judges’ unions say at least 246,000 cases, which must be heard by fewer than 300 judges, are outstanding, and the process from the first instance court to the appeals court for a second hearing takes eight years, and from the appeals court to the Supreme Court another four years. The minister’s plans include decriminalizing minor offenses against road, market and hygiene regulations, and he is also working on a program of voluntary retirement for at least 60 judges so as to rid the judiciary of unwell and inefficient functionaries.