Bill to speed up court verdicts

A set of measures heralded by Justice Minister Anastassis Papaligouras aims to accelerate the dispensation of justice in the Greek court system, currently burdened by some 800,000 pending cases, Sunday’s Kathimerini has learned. The 10-point draft bill, to be submitted to Parliament soon, seeks to curb frequent postponements of court hearings and to introduce a «model trial» system – such as the Anglo-Saxon system of legal precedents – to categorize cases and ensure they are heard without delay. The bill also foresees a curb on the unchecked use of the appeals process through the introduction of stricter conditions. The more widespread operation of one-judge courts of first instance is also expected to cut through the backlog of misdemeanors trials waiting to be heard. A crackdown on the practice of postponing trials is expected to be among the most effective of the proposed measures. According to the new bill, judges who fail to hear cases attributed to their courts within eight months will face disciplinary proceedings. «The dramatic postponement of dispensing justice is endemic» in Greek courts, according to Papaligouras, who described the judiciary in Greece as «lame rather than blind.» About one in 10 Greeks is believed to be currently involved in an unresolved dispute with the country’s judicial system. The Athens Court of First Instance alone registers around 300,000 criminal cases each year. And although the situation is said to have improved over the past two years, there are still chronic delays. Greek courts take an average of five years to issue a verdict in the case of a misdemeanor, eight years in a criminal case. Property disputes with the state involving expropriations tend to last the longest, with many continuing for decades. In certain cases, citizens have appealed to the European Court of Human Rights to get their cases heard and have subsequently received hefty settlements.