The judiciary’s responsibility

The reform efforts over the past few years have begun to bear fruit. Greece has improved its standing in the World Bank’s Doing Business rankings, rising 48 positions from 2010 to 61st place among 189 countries today. But even as the report notes improvements in cutting red tape, it also underlines the fact that our slow justice system is an obstacle to investment, to business and to the country’s development. Judicial officials ought to take a long, hard look at the problem and make clear where governments, laws and institutions are to blame and where they themselves can improve the situation through proposals and action.

It is inconceivable that Greece should edge up to 61st position overall (from 65th last year, or 72nd, according to the previous ranking method), while in the category “Enforcing contracts” it is in 155th place. An analysis by the Economist titled “Where not to invest in Europe” notes that the 1,580 days (over four years) needed to settle a contractual dispute in Greece is 18 months longer than it took in 2010. In a table of 20 EU member states, Greece is the worst by far, with the justice system in second-placed Slovenia needing about three-and-a-half years to deal with such cases, while Italy’s needs a little over three years. The other countries deal with such issues in under two years.

Investors need freedom to enter contracts but also the certainty that these will be honored. The World Bank report notes: “By promoting investment, good judicial institutions can also contribute to economic growth and development. Indeed, an effective judiciary, by providing a structured, timely and orderly framework for resolving disputes, fosters economic stability and growth.” The report stresses that without efficient contract enforcement, “the predictability of the legal framework – which is highly valued by firms operating in the market – would be compromised.”

Among the achievements noted in the report, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain, all of whom were seriously affected by the global economic crisis, have adopted reforms at a steady pace. In Greece, starting a business and registering property has become simpler and cheaper. Also, enforcing contracts was made easier by introducing an electronic filing system for court users, the report added. So what is holding up the process?

The responsibility of the political class and of the public administration is clear and well known. The efforts to improve procedures and structures are judged daily by the citizens in their struggles with state agencies. Every now and then, however, we are surprised by the way some civil servant may do something extra to help, showing respect both to the citizen and to his or her position in the public administration. It is now time for judicial officials to show that they will accept no obstacles in their effort to contribute to the smooth functioning of justice, to the reinforcement of citizens’ trust and to the country’s economic stability and development.

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