Judiciary bends under its burdens

The Greek judiciary is seriously ailing, an ever increasing number of judicial officials – both at the very highest echelons and lower down in the system – are proclaiming with increasing frequency. The justice system appears to be working at two speeds, showing great hardness toward common people appearing before it, just as it shows scandalous flexibility to those who have the power to pull strings. The major problems include alleged political efforts to control the actions of judges, the bribery of officials, outrageous delays in passing judgment which serves to let some people off the hook, while causing despair for others. Speaking at the annual meeting of the union of judges and prosecutors yesterday, the president of the prosecutors’ association, Vassilis Markis, stressed: «It is sad to see that the penal system in our country is on its last legs. A huge number of cases is flooding prosecutors’ offices and courts which have bent under this weight.» Addressing the same meeting, Supreme Court President Stefanos Matthias repeated a call he has made for a more independent judiciary. «The Greek justice system must not be a ward of the administration, at least with regard to its internal functioning,» he said. Markis noted that at present the Athens Appeals Court was setting dates for cases in 2006. «Those who are serving sentences of up to eight years will have served their sentence before their appeal is heard,» Markis said. «Misdemeanors, which usually come to trial seven or seven-and-a-half years after the crime, often result in further postponement. This situation cannot go on,» he added. «The way courts are set up today, the current organization and equipment and today’s legal system are unable to cope because the number of new cases is greater than the number of cases being heard.» Markis also noted a recent spate of critical comments by government officials against prosecutors who filed reports on cases where ministers and managers at state-run companies appeared to have acted illegally. In one instance, former Public Works Minister Costas Laliotis alleged a prosecutor was in cahoots with the opposition New Democracy party when he filed mismanagement charges against the board of the Land Registry company overseen by Laliotis’s ministry. «We have no wish to become involved in political issues or party rivalries,» Markis said. «But oversight has also to look at the functioning of civil services or public companies.» Justice Minister Philippos Petsalnikos, who was attending, responded that judges too were members of society and as such they too could be judged. But a number of former and current judicial officials have also expressed serious concern about other factors hampering the judicial system. Former Supreme Court Deputy President Giorgos Vellis has claimed that serious crimes are committed not only by «mid-level crooks» but also by agents of political power and by tangled business and political interests who evade justice. As Nikos Constantopoulos, leader of the Left Coalition party and a leading lawyer, notes: «There is no division of powers, but a confusion of powers, since political power has always tried to subjugate the judiciary.» The Embassy of the Czech Republic organizes an exhibition of the Moser Collection of Bohemian glass, Czech garnets and jewelry. At the Czech Embassy, 6 Georgiou Seferi, Palaio Psychico. For further details, call 671.9701, 671.3755.

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