Fewer crimes, swifter justice

A team of experts will be asked to draw up a list of minor offenses that can be decriminalized in order to help alleviate the pressure on the judicial system, sources said yesterday. Justice, Transparency and Human Rights Minister Haris Kastanidis is said to be looking at a range of measures that will help get things moving again in Greek courts, where there is a backlog of thousands of cases. One of the possible changes being considered by Kastanidis is to stop witnesses in civil cases being examined while the court is in session so the process of the trial being heard by the judges is not held up. Another idea being considered is making it more difficult for court cases to be postponed – one of the main reasons so many trials pile up is their regular postponement, often for trivial matters. However, the most controversial proposal is likely to be the reassessment of the offenses that fall under the criminal code. According to sources, Kastanidis has proposed the creation of three teams that will consist of university teachers and respected lawyers. These groups will be asked to examine the current list of criminal offenses and decided which, if any, can be scratched off. Any offenses taken off the list will then be subject to financial penalties rather than jail terms or the issuing of suspended sentences. The current backlog of cases means that many plaintiffs who cannot get their cases heard in good time are resorting to taking Greece to the European Court of Justice. This has resulted in a number of hefty fines for the country. Kastanidis is considering circumventing this process by offering direct compensation to any Greek citizens whose cases are not heard within a specific time frame. Sources said that the justice minister is also planning to hire more court staff and judges and to equip courts with computers in a bid to speed up justice.