With the kind of knowledge of the justice system that can only be acquired from the inside and the candor of a person who doesn’t mince his words, Deputy Prime Minister Panagiotis Pikrammenos speaks to Kathimerini on the need for profound reform in the Greek justice system.
He proposes measures like a radical overhaul of judiciary jurisdictions and stricter assessment of judges’ performance, while describing a shift in mentality to restore citizens’ trust in the system as “the most important reform.”
“We need judges who have adapted to modern times. We do not want judges who see what they do as a simple job,” he says, pointing to discrepancies in performance. “These disparities cannot be tolerated. They come at the expense of those doing the work, the system and society,” says Pikrammenos, who also served as Greece’s caretaker prime minister in May and June 2012, during one of the toughest periods of the economic crisis.
A former president of the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, Pikrammenos reaches out to his colleagues in the Greek judiciary, saying that “the justice system cannot be running at 100 when the economy and technology are going at 1,000.” He also stresses the negative impact of delays in the system on the economy and investments.
– You served the justice system for 40 years and have also spent many years in politics. Is the justice system, in your opinion, Greece’s “sick man”?
I would never use the term “sick man,” because, sure, the justice system has its problems, but it also carries problems created by others. A poorly operating public administration, for one, slows things down, as does an overabundance of laws and of inefficient laws. When the other branches of the state are not functioning properly, this influences justice. Yet we continue to make the mistake of viewing it as an independent function. I would say that justice is not the sick man, but it should be a fundamental pillar of this nation.
– Forty-three laws aimed at speeding up justice have been passed over the past few decades, yet none have had the intended effect. How do you explain that?
True, every government has made an effort to speed up the dispensation of justice, but I do not accept that none of these laws brought results. They may not have had the desired effect, but they had some effect. The issue of speeding up justice is a major one, and it cannot be solved with legislation alone. If a judge does not acknowledge the problem and make it his business, it will never be resolved. It is, therefore, up to the functionaries of the system too, which is why we need several messages to be conveyed. One concerns meritocracy, which should apply to every level of the judiciary and is extremely important in the selection of the people who govern it. I would be very interested in a government proposal for a comprehensive solution to the problems instead of piecemeal interventions, which cannot be effective on their own. This also needs to be done with the cooperation of judicial functionaries.
– Does the solution perhaps lie in sweeping and profound reform?
A different mentality would be the most important reform. We need judges who have adapted to modern times. We do not want judges who see what they do as a simple job, or whose mentality is that of a civil servant. A judge’s job is of the highest service to society and must be viewed as such. If every judge had this mentality, we would not see such enormous and unnecessary delays in cases or in decisions. And because mentalities are shaped in one’s early years, the government decided that its first fundamental intervention and reform had to be at the National School of Judges, so that young judges enter the system via assessment and meritocracy.
– Are you in favor of the idea of a shake-up of the judicial map, a fresh division of jurisdictions?
I believe it is essential so that the entire judicial body is put in the service of society’s needs rather than of local or other interests. Great strides are being made to this end thanks to the gradual implementation of the Comprehensive Information System, which is giving us important statistical data. This data will be instrumental in the changes that will be introduced to the judicial map.
– You said that change is needed at the National School of Judges. Can you elaborate?
Rationalizing and modernizing the school is enormously important to shaping the mentality of judicial officials. The school’s legal framework was designed in 2008 and is now dated. It needs to be brought up to date and adapted for training young judges according to present conditions and needs. A new draft law for the school has already been designed by a legislative committee appointed by the Justice Ministry.
– What kind of changes are envisaged?
Assessment and meritocracy from the core of the reforms and innovations. It also establishes mandatory ongoing education for serving judicial officials, while modernizing the areas and methods of this additional training so that they can respond to present-day conditions.
– Do delays in the justice system affect investments and economic growth? And what does this mean for a country that has just come out of a long economic crisis?
Multiple studies have demonstrated the correlation between efficient courts and economic growth. When judicial systems ensure that rights will be upheld, creditors are more likely to lend, companies are discouraged from profiteering, the cost of transactions declines and innovative businesses are more likely to carry out investments. This positive impact is proved in all sorts of studies, such as from the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, the OECD, the World Economic Forum and the World Bank. But I think that even without such studies – just based on our own experience and common sense – we all know that more efficient justice is directly linked to a better investment climate and a country’s economic prospects. And this is simply because investments go where there is trust and security.
– With the benefit of hindsight, what would you like to tell judges today?
The need to understand that the justice system cannot be running at 100 when the economy and technology are going at 1,000. It will be overtaken by reality. Pensioners and workers should not have to wait for years to get their dues. Investors and businesspeople cannot wait a decade for a case to be resolved and have to take recourse to mediation all the time.
I would tell them to get over traditional stereotypes, to open their eyes, to look at how modern society works and to adapt accordingly. This will elevate the status of judges at a personal level and restore the people’s trust in the justice system. We are already seeing a rise in extrajudicial settlement mechanisms and this is created by the circumstances. It is essential for the judges, and for the institution, that the bond of trust with society is restored.
– How do you see the role of the justice system in the coming years?
I want to stress the very important role it is being called on to play at the national and international level in resolving many complex issues. I refer to the Covid pandemic, where courts must weigh important commodities like public health against personal freedoms. Justice will have to defend the environment for future generations against the effects of climate change. The “climate trial” is already a thing, where societies are demanding the intervention of judges to protect the environment and compel governments to adopt effective measures. It’s a matter of survival.
– Does the assessment and disciplinary system for judges work?
Evaluation is a necessary component of a well-operating justice system. The legal framework is there, but it needs to be updated and then applied in a more essential manner… We cannot have judges working at different speeds: some who try 10 cases, others who try 100 and others who delay decisions for years. These disparities cannot be tolerated. They come at the expense of those doing the work, the system and society.