Checks and balances

The most interesting thing to emerge from a recent meeting of the Association of Judges and Public Prosecutors – at least as far as what made it into the press was concerned – was a statement by the head of the group, Vassiliki Thanou-Christofilou, in which she stated that judicial rulings often go unenforced, to the detriment of society at large. Basically, judges are accusing the authorities that are supposed to execute their decisions of not respecting the separation of power. Among the examples of unenforced decisions cited by Thanou-Christofilou were rulings in favor of indebted households, against the emergency property tax that was tagged on to power bills, and against cutbacks in the salaries of security personnel. The association also condemned – and justly so – the fact that laws are not enforced equally in Greece, preferential amendments to draft laws and the constant changes that are made to bills before they are ratified in Parliament – an issue that was also stressed by Parliament’s Budget Office, though for a different reason.

Sure, the judges were right to stress these ills, but they should not forget that they too have displayed behavior that flouts the law: On the one hand they defended, via judicial means, keeping their salaries at the same level they were at before the crisis and demanded that they be compensated for money lost since the cutbacks were enforced, while on the other they contributed to the enforcement of emergency fiscal policies, opening the Constitution up to interpretation so they could justify measures enforced by Greece’s creditors in the bailout memorandum.

The judges also complained that courts are woefully understaffed, stressing the problem of magistrates courts, where a call for 50 judges has been long-delayed and where just 2,800 of the 5,000 assigned positions for judicial employees are currently filled.

A functional and effective justice system is one of the key components not just for the recovery of the country but for ensuring that we live in a healthy democracy. In order to ensure this, a debate needs to be launched on the role and selection of the leadership of the judiciary so that it is no longer dependent on the executive branch of the state. Another important point that needs to be discussed is the abolition of the immunity from prosecution currently enjoyed by politicians, including ministers and parliamentary deputies.

The crisis has revealed the weaknesses in the system that used to be hidden behind mutual concessions of privilege. The distinct bodies of power need to become engaged in a system of mutual supervision so that they can ensure a balanced and equitable democracy, not one where it is possible to create pockets in which certain people or interests enjoy preferential treatment or cannot be touched by the law.

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