OPINION

Blind justice

Our concept of blind justice, often depicted in the form of a blindfolded Lady Justice, owes much to the mythological figure of the goddess Dike, who represented the spirit of moral order and fair judgment in ancient Greece. Dike was a mortal who Zeus placed on Earth to ensure justice prevailed. However, even the supreme ancient god realized that keeping humans just was a fruitless task and he whisked Dike up to a seat next to him on Mount Olympus. Were Dike to look down from that vantage point on Greece’s justice system today, she would no doubt cover her eyes in shame – but this is not the blind justice that Greeks want. Justice Ministry officials told Athens Plus that the PASOK government has identified serious shortcomings in Greece’s courts and prisons and is embarking on an effort to rectify them. There is concern that the government’s measures tackle the symptoms rather than the chronic problems that cause them. For instance, although PASOK is considering making changes to the way that judges are appointed, it has yet to announce specific measures. Equally, there has been no attempt to address Greeks’ litigious nature, which often leads to lawsuits being filed for the most trivial of reasons. The fact there is no mechanism to filter out cases that are a waste of the courts’ time means the entire system, which already suffers from the same indifference and bureaucracy of other public services, is undermined. Nevertheless, a bid to slash the backlog of thousands of cases appears to be a positive step. An effort to reduce the number of people in pretrial detention also seems to make sense. It should be a cause of shame for Greece that the average pretrial detention here is one year – three times longer than in other European Union countries. Because of failures to ensure that our system dispenses justice swiftly and fairly, innocent people languish in jail and victims of crimes wait to see guilty parties punished. The failings at all levels to ensure that victims and suspects are treated fairly have been highlighted by the experience of a young Briton, Andrew Symeou. As explained in this week’s edition of Athens Plus, Symeou, 21, has been held in Greek jails for the last six months in connection with the killing of another British youngster, Jonathon Hiles, on Zakynthos in July 2007. Hiles was punched in a packed nightclub and died from head injuries two days later. Symeou denies being in the nightclub at the time. There are serious doubts about the evidence gathered by the island’s police linking him to the alleged crime. Claims that some witnesses testified to Symeou’s involvement only after being assaulted have not been investigated. Symeou’s parents have moved to Greece to be close to their son and to fight for justice. They are not asking for him to be instantly cleared – they are simply asking that he be granted bail by a council of judges next week and that he be put on trial soon so he can have a chance to clear his name and for the Hiles family to get justice for their dead son. In Greece, it seems that even this most basic element of justice cannot be taken for granted. January will be an opportunity for the Greek justice system to regain some credibility, as the trial of the two police officers involved in the shooting of teenager Alexis Grigoropoulos and the case of the four nightclub employees allegedly responsible for the fatal beating of Australian youngster Doujon Zammit are due to begin this month. It is a chance for our judicial authorities to ensure we can look upon our justice system with some pride rather than cover our eyes in disgust.