Albanian Helsinki Committee: Justice Reform at “Impasse”

In a new report on the vetting process from January 2017 until June 2018, the Albanian Helsinki Committee (KShH), one of the oldest civil rights NGOs in Albania, expresses its concerns regarding the progress made so far.

The KShH notes that the delays in the implementation of the justice reform and the slow process of vetting have created a domino effect that risks undermining fundamental human rights of Albanian citizens in terms of access to justice and efficiency of trial. The KShH indicates that the lack of judges at High Court level has created a backlog of nearly 24,000 cases, with no sight on a swift resolution, as the High Judicial Council (KLGj) has still not been formed.

Moreover, the Constitutional Court remains paralyzed as a result of the dismissal or resignation of 7 of its members:

The vacancies created at the Constitutional Court are extremely disturbing and have completely paralyzed the activity of this institution with important constitutional functions for resolving constitutional disputes and for providing final interpretation of the constitution, and in particular the requirements for failure of laws to comply with the Constitution and complaints of individuals against any act of public authority, or Court decision that violates constitutional rights and freedoms.

The results of this situation have been dearly felt, in the questionable appointment of Temporary General Prosecutor Arta Marku, the “special” law for the National Theater, and the conflict between President Ilir Meta and Prime Minister Edi Rama concerning the appointment of Minister of Interior Affairs Sandër Lleshaj. In all these cases, the Constitutional Court could not be consulted, with political conflict as a result.

The KShH recommends the “immediate and priority” vetting of the member of the Justice Appointments Council (KED), so that new Constitutional Court judges can be nominated. A more recent issue in this respect is the absence of qualifying candidates for the upcoming KED elections, which means that no KED may be appointed for 2019.

The KShH also found several issues concerning the vetting procedures, including the fact that some magistrates did not receive a full evaluation, but instead were only judged based on their assets:

In the case of the hither-to dismissals, it has been noted in some of the decisions that the KPK has decided to end the vetting process for the vetting subjects only based on the assets criterion, not completing and not taking into consideration the investigation on the integrity of the individuals and their professional skills. Under the Constitution of the Republic of Albania the vetting process requires control of all three components underlying it.

Not following the right procedures could lead to unnecessary appeals, the KShH points out, and further slow down the process: “Failure to fully implement the vetting process for these subjects and eventual change of decision-making as a result of the right to appeal can lead to delays in the process.”

Finally, although the KShH values the overall transparency of the vetting process, it is critical of the role of the International Monitoring Operation (ONM), whose functioning remains unclear:

Transparency of the activity of the International Monitoring Operation is a controversial aspect of the process, as the public and media are limited to obtaining information only during the hearings when the [ONM] observers ask questions to those undergoing vetting.

Moreover, the recommendations of the ONM are often not reflected in the verdicts of the Independent Qualification Commission (KPK):

In the decisions taken and argumented thus far by the KPK, it is clear that International Monitoring Operation’s suggestions on the matter are not reflected in the decision. […]  In those cases where suggestions are made about the issue by the IMO observers, the nature or context of the suggestions is not specified in the decision, which makes the IMO’s role and contribution in this process not transparent to the public.