OPINION

Push comes to shove

Push comes to shove

The chronic shortcomings and inefficiencies of the Greek justice system are nothing new. The political class is aware of the problems which mean that thousands of citizens and businesses end up in court every day to resolve all sorts of disputes.

The foot-dragging in the country’s courts has been underscored by several studies and it has been exposed in a series of reports by international organizations, the World Bank and the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises (SEV). The unduly delayed court proceedings have also prompted the reaction of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Outspoken judges with first-hand experience of the situation (including officials who have retired from active service) have pointed out the root causes of the dysfunction and proposed specific solutions.

Several bills have been put forward since the mid-2000s with the aim of accelerating the sluggish justice system. Every justice minister made sure to table one. A total of 38 bills have been voted through in the previous decades. They all however failed to live up to their promise. Ambitious as they were, all interventions were fragmentary.

Several bills have been put forward since the mid-2000s with the aim of accelerating the sluggish justice system. Every justice minister made sure to table one

This is how we got here. The problems of the Greek justice system have naturally piled up over time. When New Democracy came to power in 2019 it announced a package of reforms to shake up an institution whose poor operation has harmed the country’s economic development and ability to attract investment.

During three years of conservative rule, the justice system has seen some institutional reforms. Some of them, such as the changes to the National School of Judges, have been significant.

This time the government took action as the European Union set justice system reforms as a prerequisite for unlocking 20 billion euros from the pandemic recovery fund. The Ministry of Justice prepared a bill that introduces major changes to the internal operation of the system, including evaluation for judges. This is very important given that until now all judicial officials, regardless of their actual qualifications, were able to climb to the top echelons of the system.

The new legislation will be put to parliamentary vote after the Easter break. One might be tempted to say better late than never. However, the fact remains that politically and institutionally speaking, it is rather problematic that measures are only taken after push has come to shove.