Civil Society Sounds Alarm over Justice Reform

Three major Albanian civil society organizations, Albanian Helsinki Committee (AHC), the Institute for Political Studies (IPS), and the Center for the Study of Democracy and Governance (CSDG), who received support from the Open Society Foundation for Albania to monitor the progress of the justice reform, sound the alarm over the slow progress of the vetting, the violation of legal deadlines with the establishment of the Special Prosecution Office (SPAK), non-prioritization of SPAK and General Prosecutor candidates in the vetting process, lack of interinstitutional coordination, and lack of transparency.

Their findings seem to resonate with what we argued at Exit since the beginning of the justice reform, namely that the legal framework of the reform, invented in offices far away from political reality, have led a cascade effect plunging the judiciary into a deeper crisis than it was ever before.

The three civil society organizations arrived at the following conclusions:

1. Although justice reform is progressing, it is still taking place at a low pace, both in terms of the vetting process and in terms of the establishment of the new institutions. Besides the pace, we find insufficient interagency coordination and, in some elements, also problems with the level of transparency.

2. With regard to the vetting process, although half the time of the constitutional mandate of the Independent Qualification Commission (KPK) has been exhausted, only the re-evaluation process of less than 15% of the entire body of judges and prosecutors has been completed.

3. The process of the establishment of the new institutions, particularly the Special Courts and SPAK, has surpassed all legal deadlines by which these institutions should have been set up: within two months for the High Judicial Council (KLGj) and the High Prosecutorial Council (KLP). Although more than three months have gone by since their establishment, there is still no information regarding coordination between the two bodies in relation to the harmonized establishment of the institutions for the investigation and adjudication of the criminal offenses of corruption and organized crime. While the evaluation and selection of candidates for prosecutors in the Special Prosecution Office is expected to last about 8 weeks, at present there is no information on the temporary appointment of judges of Serious Crimes Courts in the Special Courts against corruption and organized crime, although this process began at the end of December 2018. Meanwhile, delays are being accompanied by lack of transparency toward the public with regard to procedures, deadlines and responsibilities of the very bodies tasked by the Constitution and the law.

4. The vetting bodies are yet to give priority to addressing cases for transitory re-evaluation for judges who are candidates for the special courts and the candidates for prosecutors of SPAK, just like some of the elected members of the KLP (3 members) are yet to have a final decision of being confirmed in their posts as they await adjudication in the second instance of vetting.

5. The process for the election of the Prosecutor General is also advancing at a slow pace while Albania will soon have had a Temporary Prosecutor General for 15 months.

6. Of concern are also some decisions of the KLGj and KLP, which limit access for public information and monitoring before and during the conduct of plenary meetings. As a result, this situation disallows the application of the principle of transparency, creates elements of doubts on the integrity of the activity of the institutions and might violate public trust in the process results and progress.

7. HPC still lacks a definitive office building where it could carry out its activity permanently, while the budget has not yet been allocated and administrative support staff has not been provided for the KLP and KLGj. Limitations in terms of budget and personnel, in some cases, have led to these institutions not respecting legal deadlines for informing domestic actors that monitor their activity.

8. Lastly, we appeal to the responsible institutions, KLGj and KLP and the vetting bodies for transparency and communication with the public, in response to public interest in the progress and process of establishing the institutions for investigating and adjudicating the criminal offences of corruption and organized crime in order to avoid politicization and enable faster progress in these processes. Transparency and clear, timely and frequent communication with the public contributes to an environment of greater trust and addresses the expectations that citizens have for this process. Furthermore, we request from the vetting bodies to give priority to the transitory re-evaluation of judges who are candidates for the special courts, candidates for prosecutors of SPAK and overall to a faster pace in the vetting process of judges and prosecutors.