Judiciary reform must end impunity, int’l representatives say

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times June 12, 2015 19:13

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  • ‘Corrupt judges and prosecutors should know that change is coming,’ Albanian officials told at conference on judicial reform

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EU Ambassador Romana Vlahutin said the reform should be about offering a better system, not just changing existing laws. (Photo: EU Delegation in Tirana/Handout)

EU Ambassador Romana Vlahutin said the reform should be about offering a better system, not just changing existing laws. (Photo: EU Delegation in Tirana/Handout)

TIRANA, June 11 – Proposed reforms in the justice system must offer systemic change to restore public trust in the justice system and end impunity for all those involved in corruption, including high state officials, the top representatives in Tirana of the European Union, the United States and the OSCE said this week.

They spoke at a conference analyzing Albania’s justice system, where a 300-page document compiled by experts was presented. The Albanian parliament had commissioned the study, as it is hoping to pass a comprehensive justice reform bills to address persistent corruption claims.

EU Ambassador Romana Vlahutin said the reform should be about offering a better system, not just changing existing laws.

“There is no such thing as a perfect democracy, but in a truly functioning one no telephone calls, visits in expensive big cars, fat envelopes, or promises or threats of any kind, should have an ambition to be above the state or to believe that they are the state,” Vlahutin said.

She added, “This is why the upcoming reform must cut deep, and must do it with surgical precision. It has to ensure clear separation of powers, and should bring an end to any control of executive over judiciary.”

Vlahutin said the reform must also ensure full independence of the prosecution from any political or other undue influence, especially prosecution of high level corruption and organized crime cases.

She added that the reform must ensure no one can be exempt from prosecution and that all are equal before the law.

“But first and foremost it must ensure accountability of those in the system, prosecutors and judges alike,” Vlahutin said.

U.S. Ambassador Donald Lu said the justice system in Albania has great problems, and corruption in its ranks should be punished.

He added judges and prosecutors should make decisions based on law and evidence, and not under the influence of political or personal interests.

In a survey of judges financed by USAID, 25 percent of judges said the system was corrupt and another 58 percent said that the system had a public perception of corruption.

“In a system where even judges agree that there is corruption, this necessarily means that judges, prosecutors and lawyers must all share responsibility for giving and receiving bribes,” Lu said. “But, I also believe there are some experienced, qualified and honest professionals who should be allowed to work in a judicial system free of corruption.”

He added the justice system should be pursuing more serious crimes, adding that many members of organized crime groups and corrupt high officials of all colors walk in the streets of Tirana without fear that they will face prosecution for their wrongdoings.

“In a NATO country with aspirations of EU membership, political and criminal elites cannot operate with impunity,” Lu said.

The top international representatives in Tirana saw positive trends in the reform process so far.

“We believe in the value of this reform. We pledge our support for this process. And corrupt judges and prosecutors should know that change is coming,” Lu said.

Judicial reform is a multidimensional process and there is hope it will lead toward a renewed and fundamentally reliable justice system, where all citizens – from the most vulnerable to the most powerful can be held accountable for their actions, said OSCE Ambassador Florian Raunig.

The international representative also expressed regret for the opposition’s lack of participation in the reform process, calling on the Democratic Party to join the charting of the reform.

“There can be judicial reform that upholds international standards without the opposition, but it will be better and more sustainable in Albania with its active participation,” Rauning said.

He added, “They should not exclude themselves from shaping the future of Albania”

EU’s Vlahutin echoed that sentiment.

“This should be not a reform for one of two elections cycles. Albania cannot afford short term or any group of interest-driven solutions. Albania needs an all-inclusive, thorough, constructive dialogue on major changes like this one,” she said. “Everybody in this country who has been elected to represent the people, be it in the government or in the opposition, is equally responsible for the results of the reform.”

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times June 12, 2015 19:13