On justice

“We want to make the long-suffering Greek system of justice truly independent and unbiased… We want to safeguard our judicial culture, protect it and reinforce it, ensuring equality before the law and entrenching the rule of law.» The above excerpts, taken from new Justice Minister Anastassis Papaligouras’s speech during yesterday’s handover ceremony, underscore the big and crucial challenges facing the country’s system of justice. The government’s success in tackling these issues will determine whether citizens will be truly equal before the law and, paradoxical as it may sound, whether the law will be the same for all citizens. It will also determine whether public confidence in the judicial system will be restored and whether the latter will be able to function in an independent and unbiased fashion, combining the requisite strictness with an air of leniency – both of which are necessary for the citizen to feel that the law is on his side. It is an open secret that the Greek system of justice has been corroded. Although, in theory, no one ever questions equality before the law, the Orwellian motto that «all animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others» looks uncomfortably familiar in practice. Everyone knows that this is the result of repeated secret interventions and conflicting interests, but also of the simple – albeit for many painful – fact that low-income or low-status people are often treated as second-class citizens. Inequality before the law is expressed in two ways: In some cases, justice works blatantly in favor of the powerful while, in others, it is too strict with the weak. «An independent system of justice must turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to all kinds of pressure,» the new minister said during yesterday’s ceremony; and this should clearly be his main priority. A judge must be unbiased, and rule on the sole basis of law and the values of the Constitution and humanism. It is a heavy task, a task that requires independence, prudence, effort and inspiration. Public trust in the judicial system is undermined mainly by signs that some individuals actually stand above the law. But it is also undermined when an ordinary citizen is snubbed as an unimportant subject. Rule of law means that the State is subject to its own laws – and most importantly, to equality before the law. The fact that Papaligouras set this as a top priority is a welcome move. It will be a difficult task. It will take persistence and courage to break the inertia of the system and any reactions that are bound to surface. Should Papaligouras prove to possess these virtues, he will find Greeks on his side.

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