From: Alice Taylor
US Embassy Praises Justice Reform on Five Year Anniversary

The US Embassy in Tirana celebrated the five-year anniversary of the ongoing justice reform, in the presence of key figures involved in designing and implementing the reform.

The justice reform comprises structure changes to Albanian justice institutions, including depoliticisation and decentralisation and the vetting of all judges and prosecutors. Since its inception, more than half of eligible judicial employees have been vetted, and around half of those have either resigned or been dismissed.

This saw the country’s Constitutional Court and the High Court become dysfunctional for around two years, leading to a backlog of over 30,000 cases in the latter. While both are now functioning today, the backlog continues to pose issues.

US Ambassador Yuri Kim remarked that while the justice reform has not been perfect, it was still the right path for Albania.

“Progress should not be measured only by distance to the destination; progress should also be measured by how far we have travelled,” the Embassy said on social media.

Sadly, Albanians have little trust in the reform. Earlier this year, the Centre for the Study of Democracy and Governance report found that people do not trust justice reform institutions and believe they are politically influenced.

“Regarding the independence of justice institutions from political influence, a large percentage of citizens, over two-thirds, think that these institutions are only a little or not at all independent,” the survey notes.

They also do not believe that special anti-corruption structures like SPAK will have a meaningful impact on corruption.

“When compared to 2019, there is a significant decrease in the percentage of citizens who believe that with the establishment of the Special AntiCorruption Structure (SPAK), the fight against corruption and organised crime will be strengthened and that the effectiveness of the courts will increase after the justice reform,” it states.

In 2020, an opinion poll from the Institute of Democracy and Mediation found that trust in the justice reform had fallen for the third year in a row. Only 53% thought the reform would positively impact Albania, 32% thought it was correctly implemented, and 37.57 said they thought it would clean the system and make it more credible.

In September, the parliament announced it wanted to extend the term of the vetting bodies as the process was taking much longer than expected. With around 400 judges or half of those eligible still to be vetted, two years seems like a short period considering it has taken five years to do the first 400.

If parliament does not approve the extension of their mandate, then the High Judicial Council will vet the remaining magistrates.

The opposition does not oppose the extension, but it uses it as leverage to implement its plan. Namely, it requests the approval of its constitutional amendments to change the current electoral system and to enact a vetting process for MPs and other high-ranking politicians.

The ruling Socialist Party has now sought the opinion of the Venice Commission on extending the mandates of the vetting bodies.

In October, the Albanian Helsinki Committee said the extension of the mandate should be subject to thorough consultation with constitutional and legal experts, professors of law, and civil society.