Trial by judge for ministers?

In the wake of criticism about the handling of investigations into alleged wrongdoing committed by politicians, Justice Minister Nikos Dendias has revealed in an interview with Sunday’s Kathimerini that the government is working on a new law that would limit the role of Parliament and put more responsibility in the hands of senior judges. The recent decision not to indict former Aegean Minister Aristotelis Pavlidis, following an investigation by a parliamentary committee and a subsequent vote in the House, led opposition parties and many commentators to criticize the way in which cases involving ministers and former ministers are dealt with. «Regardless of who is more culpable, there is no question that the relationship between the political world and the rest of society must be restored,» said Dendias. The current process means that a prosecutor has to send the case file to Parliament if he believes that there is evidence to suggest a politician has done something wrong. A panel of 13 MPs then examines the evidence, carries out its own probe and recommends to Parliament whether further action should be taken. The main criticism of this system is that it leaves the key decisions in the hands of politicians and the party in power can block the progress of any investigation in Parliament. Under the scheme considered by Dendias, the prosecutor will refer the case to a specially appointed senior judge rather than to a parliamentary committee. The information collected by this judge will then be assessed by a council of three or five justices, who will then recommend to Parliament whether the politician should have his immunity from prosecution lifted so he or she can stand trial. «The current law, as well as Article 86 of the Constitution [on ministerial liability], are currently out of step with public sentiment,» said Dendias, who added that discussions with the Interior Ministry have begun with a view to submitting a proposal to the other parties. No time frame was mentioned. PASOK leader George Papandreou called the government’s plans «hypocritical.»

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