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News 26 Dec 16

Albanian Judges Likely to Quit to Avoid Vetting

Experts say many Albanian judicial officials are likely to resign before the so-called vetting law comes into operation, in order to save their reputations - and their assets.

Fatjona Mejdini
BIRN
Tirana
Ilustrative picture by pixabay.com

Analysists in Albania believe the law on the re-evaluation of judges and prosecutors or so-called vetting law will result in a lot of resignations among the around 800 justice officials.

After the Constitutional Court on Thursday dismissed objections against the law from the opposition Democratic Party and the Union of the Judges, the law will enter into force at the start of January.

Two main bodies will be formed to handle the vetting of judges and prosecutors, a process comprising assets checks and background checks in order to investigate any connections with crime and their profession.

The relevant bodies will be a Commission, an Appeal Chamber, and Public Commissioners that will be appointed from among legal experts.  

The process will also be monitored externally by the International Monitoring Operation - a body of international lawyers led by the European Commission.

Analysts believe that not all justice officials will pass the complex process of controls.

Afrim Krasniqi, director of the Albanian Institute for Political Studies, told BIRN that some will probably resign, using the allegedly political nature of the judicial reform as an excuse.

"They are going to use resignation to skip the checks and the publication of their financial and professional data. Some of them will try to enter in politics... some of them are very rich and have strong political ties and access to the media and public life," Krasniqi said.

The law on vetting makes it easy for magistrates to leave the system without facing consequences. Article 56 anticipates that those assessed have the right to resign not later than three months from the entry into force of the bill.

"The resignation shall be submitted in written form to the President of the Republic and shall be published on its official website. In the case of resignation, the Commission shall issue a decision on the termination of the re-evaluation proceedings," the law says.

Skender Minxhozi, editor-in-chief of Java News portal, told BIRN that many are expected to take this opportunity, while trying to save their reputations before the public.

"I've been informed ... that resignations will follow the law, while some Appeal Court members have more reasons to do so, since it will be difficult for them to justify their assets," Minxhozi said.

In June a BIRN analysis of asset declarations concluded that nearly 80 per cent of Albania’s Appeal Court judges' reports contained financial discrepancies and they cannot justify their wealth for one or more years during their judicial careers.

Krasniqi suggested that if the criteria on vetting were strictly respected, around 70 per cent of the judges and prosecutors would fail the test.

"The efficacy of the law will depend on two criteria, whether the International Monitoring Operation is strict about the criteria and whether assessing process has the necessary transparency and public support," he said.

Minxhozi said it remains to be seen how rigorously the law is implemented.

"The process of implementing the judicial reform package and the vetting law especially is not going to be an easy task. We are a small place and sometimes situations become complex," he warned.

However, Minxhozi said the thorough level of assessing that the law provides for, and the international role in it, gives it a good chance of success.

According to the law, at the end of the process, the Commission will decide the following regarding the assessees: confirmation in duties; suspension for a year and an obligation to follow a training program; dismissal from office.

The law requires that the vetting process starts with the re-evaluation of judges at the Constitutional Court, at the High Court and the General Prosecutor.

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