NEWS

Legal institutions are manipulated to serve the government interest

Manipulation of justice, serious delays in its administration and the quality of judicial rulings are the chief problems that have plagued the justice system for years. Senior judges have publicly stated that justice is ailing because the government of the day uses its power to erode the independence of the judiciary, and that justice is ineffective because those seeing its protection come up against obstacles, delays and often against inaccurate rulings. Though these problems are well known, there is no sign that they are being dealt with. They have dragged on for years, often casting doubt on members of the judiciary when they handle cases with political ramifications or of interest to society. The image of justice In a speech he gave on «Greek justice on the threshold of the new century,» Supreme Court president Stefanos Mathias stated: «If the situation doesn’t change, the delays in Greek justice will increase and be perpetuated; there will be an outcry. Then legislative measures will not be able to solve the problem; the clean-up and reform of justice will be necessary.» The image of justice is not incompatible with the social environment, where the paramount ideal is to get rich quick by any means possible, as former Supreme Court vice president Giorgos Vellis noted. He believes this attitude, in combination with many other factors, such as inept and malicious management by legislators, the excessive number of lawyers, and the negative effect of the mass media all greatly undermine the effectiveness of justice. Some indication of the slackness that reigns in the justice system could be gleaned when Vellis gave as his view that those who should comprise the clientele of the prosecutors and courts are not only ordinary robbers and swindlers and those who get caught up in civil cases. Serious transgressions are committed by people who wield political power, and those associated with the black economy. But with what authority and power can the judge and prosecutor face these people, when they themselves are part and parcel of the same society? It is not that excellent judges do not exist, but that the few who deal with the power of the day deeply harm the prestige of the judiciary and create an atmosphere of distrust. It is not by chance that more judges and prosecutors have been dismissed for inefficiency or unethical behavior in the past six years than in several preceding decades. In addition to this, the bottleneck in the administration of justice caused by disgraceful delays makes the justice deficit look nightmarish. Statistics provided by Constantinos Valmantonis, president of the Association of Judges and Prosecutors, speak for themselves: Indictable offenses come to trial after five to seven years, and felonies (such as robberies, murders and rapes) after eight-12 years, when there is a serious risk that serious cases will be dismissed. The independence of the judiciary seems meaningless following the recent constitutional reform which allowed the Cabinet to retain the right to choose senior judges. This system has met with universal disapproval for the opportunities it offers to cultivate dependencies and favor the entanglement of the government in power with the presidents and vice presidents of the three high courts. Even if those elected do not succumb to party-political interventions, the suggestion of party favor hovers over them. Often the criteria by which they are elected come into question when the seniority list is not followed for reasons of merit. The system can also be corrupted by judges and prosecutors much lower in the pecking order who have expectations or promises of promotion if the government of the day looks like staying in office. The institution of justice also comes under attack from legislators and from laws which allow for intervention so that the government of the day can, to a large extent, maintain control over the institution. Legislative ploys There are legislative machinations that open up channels to manipulate judges, as Mathias has publicly stated. «The ministry wanted a particular senior judge to become the head of the inspectorate of courts, because it believed that in this way it can impose some of its wishes. So it brought in a law abolishing the system that had been in force until then, according to which the Supreme Judicial Council appointed inspectorate officials. In 1994, it introduced a new law by which the position of the head of the inspectorate was filled by the most junior vice president of the Supreme Court. Thus it achieved the following: First, the inspectorate head that did not please them left; second, the person they supposed favored them became head of the inspectorate; and third, the abolition of the Council’s former responsibility for choosing the people who would carry out the delicate and arduous task of the inspectorate. This power lies to a certain extent with the government since, if the Cabinet makes sure when promoting Supreme Court vice presidents that the most junior one is someone who favors them, the vital institution of the inspectorate is under its permanent ‘control.’ » Mathias went on to point out the extent of the problem of government intervention through legislative machinations: «Later on, the head of the inspectorate at that time would not ‘cooperate.’ So it was decided to replace him by a new law (in 1997) which again changed the inspectorate officials and the method of selecting them. The new system was based on drawing lots. Though this system is unimpeachable, it can still perform miracles. It has already performed a few, with the result that the inspectorate has become paralyzed in some judicial areas. «Another intervention, the third opportunity in just a few years for intervention in the inspectorate, occurred in 1999. These repeated reforms of the inspectorate occurred without the approval and despite the opposition of the Supreme Court. They resulted in the disruption and dislocation of this fundamental institution, without which justice cannot operate effectively.» «Nobody can be satisfied with the situation that has developed in the structure and functions of the justice system,» says Konstantopoulos, adding that «justice is suffering from the attempts of the rulers of the day to control it, to the point that they praise it when it suits them and denounce when it bothers them. «Nobody can be satisfied with the situation that has developed in the structure and functions of the justice system,» says Konstantopoulos, adding that «justice is suffering from the attempts of the rulers of the day to control it, to the point that they praise it when it suits them and denounce when it bothers them. Supreme Court president Stefanos Mathias, speaking about interference in the course of justice to a meeting of the Citizens’ Movement on October 10, said: «All kinds of regulations and interference are traditionally used to watch over justice and prevent it from growing up and maturing. All the other causes of delays in justice – the lack of infrastructure, staff, training and diligence – exist, but they are secondary.