Interviewed by Edison Kurani
IBNA: Mr. minister, in what stage is the work started by the Parliamentary Select Committee on the Reform in the Justice System which has begun a while ago?
Naco: Since the very first days as minister of Justice, I have underlined in parliament, where the government program was presented, the path of the reform that the majority and the ministry of Justice would follow. We have demanded to reform the Supreme Court, Constitutional Court, Supreme Council of Justice, Magistrates School or even the General Attorney office. In a year, we have contacted different lawyers, judges, prosecutors and also our international partners and following a detailed analysis by the Ministry of Justice, a report analysis has been sent for the entire justice system, which is not only the stance of the ministry of Justice. This report analysis sums up all the opinions, suggestions of our international partners and of our lawyers, professors at the Magistrates School, former ministers of Justice, former general attorneys or even former chief judges of the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court. This committee, which will also include the opposition, will have several sub committees. There are around 1 thousand national and foreign experts who have been called to offer their contribution in the Select Committee for the Reform in Justice, where the main contribution will be given by the Ministry of Justice, which will not play the role of technical secretariat, but an active role, which will communicate with the government and parliament. The work of the select committee has started. Work groups have been appointed, opinions are being obtained, not only from the ministry of Justice, but also from other institutions and other international partners. I would like to take the opportunity of this interview to appeal for the involvement of the opposition in the committee.
IBNA: The Supreme Council of Justice, where judges have a majority, is seen as one of the main problems in the justice reform. How can this gridlock which has emerged many years ago and which still continues with SCJ be solved?
Naco: There are different models. Our model has not been efficient. It hasn’t yielded the expectations that we have…
IBNA: It hasn’t functioned.
Naco: It hasn’t functioned as it should have.
IBNA: Some say it has served-sorry for interrupting you-as a shield of judges for themselves, their colleagues and in a certain way, this has left room for abuses.
Naco: I would say that our judicial system has enjoyed independence within legal and constitutional framework…
IBNA: Perhaps more than it should?
Naco: There’s been independence guaranteed by the law and Constitution, but perhaps, it hasn’t demonstrated integrity in its work. We cannot change the integrity of justice by law. This is an issue that concerns them, it’s a matter of their formation and professional education. Of course, they are part of society and this is why we have demanded for the change in a system to consist of the change in mentality. Mechanisms should be found in order for this system to function as it should. We have offered one of the possible options. The others have offered different options. It’s important to find a common denominator for the best system and for the involvement of as many actors as possible in this system. The main guarantee consists of our international partners, such as the Venice Commission, to which I have officially demanded, on behalf of the Albanian government, to assist with all legal problems, especially constitutional ones. If we want constitutional changes, then there must be a qualified expertise from institutions such as the Venice Commission, our international partners such as Euralius 4, OPDAT, PAMECA, USAID. There are tens of other partners, who have offered their contribution for years, which-I’d like to take this opportunity to thank them for this contribution-are a guarantee that our reforms will meet European standards.
IBNA: I would like to stop a little on the issue of the head of SCJ. You have said that one solution may be to have the chief judge of the Supreme Court as chairman of SCJ. Why do you think that this is productive and have there been objections so far, especially by the President?
Naco: If we refer to the period from the start of ‘90s, the President of Republic has been head of SCJ. From ’92 until ’98, with the approval of the Constitution, the role of the President of Republic has strengthened. From ’98 until 2015, the President of Republic has served as head of SCJ. He nominates judges, transfers judges of the First Instance and Appeal, he decides on promotions, appointments of chief judges or the decreeing of the members of the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court, the decreeing of the General Attorney, the appointment of all prosecutors and their transfer, their promotion through the General Attorney and the President of Republic. At first glance, it seems that the role of the President is honorific, but it’s not like that. We have a system, where throughout all these years, the President of Republic has been on the top and we have inherited a system which has not been functional. This is why we have thought that one of the best options, in my opinion and according to some other experts, would be to transfer the current powers that the President holds to the chief judge of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court should be within the Supreme Council of Justice and judges must be appointed from this system. On the other hand, the composition of SCJ may be subject to different solutions. There can be nine members elected by the Conference, but we can also have nine members elected by Parliament. We can even have them appointed by other institutions or the President… So, if we refer to the European practice we will see that there are different solutions, but the essence is the independence and integrity of these institutions. If we refer to the changes made in Kosovo, the President of Republic has no role on the election, appointment or the transfer of judges of First Instance and Appeal. Thus, the President of Republic is not head of SCJ. They have found an acceptable solution, a solution which works fine in a country such as Kosovo, a young state whose years of governance can be counted through the fingers. I have nothing against the current President. This is a detailed analysis which has been made from the period since ’92. For as long as the President of Republic is on top, but who doesn’t take any political costs and doesn’t accept any debates due to the function that the President of Republic has, who is and should be above all sides, the President must remain above all sides and not keep sides.
IBNA: You have made changes in the Criminal and Civil Procedures. Some say that they leave little room for judges to be involved in bribery while deciding on sentences. Have these amendments had a direct impact in the justice system?
Naco: I believe that the changes that have been made have been necessary. We must bear in mind the fact that the Code of Criminal Procedure, Criminal Code, Civil Code or the Civil Procedure Code have been approved in ’95 and came into effect in ’95. I believe that in all of these years, we have seen that the failure of the system has come as a result of the weaknesses in the Criminal Procedure Code or Civil Procedure. Of course, there have been proposals and amendments, which have had a significant impact in the improvement of the system and the functioning of the justice system. We have not stopped here. A work group has been appointed a year and a half ago and it’s working on the changes in the Criminal Procedure Code, which we believe that upon their approval, they will have a significant impact on the justice system, in offering justice, in preventing delays and in cases where perception for corruption is more evident than other cases. On the other hand, today, court proceedings take place in over 120 courtrooms equipped with an audio system and work is being done to equip them with audio and video systems, which has been enabled by USAID’s “Just” project. But, 2 or 3 years ago, we had not even thought of applying this system, which is one of the most modern ones applied today in western countries and the USA. Along with electronic drawing, these are the bases that have had an impact on the fight against corruption, but also in reducing perception on corruption, both in the public opinion, but also within our international partners.
IBNA: There’s a declaration of the EU ambassador to Albania, who says that the decisions in the justice system are still affected by politics and corruption. Do you think the justice system is affected by politics or corruption?
Naco: In my opinion, due to the information that I have and my experience, I rule out neither…
IBNA: I’m referring to perception and polls…
Naco: I’m saying that I rule out neither of them, but the cases of pressure, be them political or corruptive, are very few, according to me. This has to do more with the qualification of prosecutors, qualification of judges, with the administration and a positive pressure of civil society, media and public opinion toward these processes. In cases relating to people with political immunity, judges and prosecutors do become a part of these pressures.
IBNA: Meanwhile, every two years, the European Council publishes the official report on the justice system for all its member countries. What are you expecting from this year’s report?
Naco: Last year, I and other members of the majority, stressed the fact that due to the perception of corruption in Albania, we were ranked 116th, due to the report of Transparency International and the US Department of State Report, which stated that Albania continues to fight corruption with declarations and not with specialized institutions, but with a good will to investigate and try corruption cases. The fact that in a year, in spite of the difficulties with the reform and the corruption perception, we moved from the 116th place to the 110th place, shows that the trend of reforms is positive. We must be more determined in undertaking reforms. If we continue to intensify reforms, if we collaborate with international partners, then future reports will be more positive. IN a year and a half, we have not carried out the reforms that we have wanted to carry out, but we have showed a strong will in the fight against corruption, organized crime, reformation of the justice system, reformation of the administration and this is the reason why I believe that reports will be positive, even though not to the level that we want them to be.
IBNA: Mr. minister, you have also served during the four years that the Democratic Party governed the country with the SMI. What is the difference between DP and SP in the capacity of governing majority?
Naco: I believe that both political forces have common points, differences, be them conceptual or in terms of the governing. We became part of the 2009 coalition with the Democratic Party due to the result produced by the June 2009 elections, where as you know, the DP got 70 seats, SP 66 seats and we got 4 seats. We could have joined votes with the SP, but we would not have political stability, economic stability and the visa regime would not have been liberalized. This is why we chose the path of dialogue, of a compromise on behalf of all Albanians. During the past four year term in office, we have delivered reforms and made investments and personally, I am not a nihilist and will never deny them, but we wanted to advance faster and our slogan in the 2013 elections was “Let us advance faster”. We didn’t agree with the pace that Albania was moving forward and we demanded another pace to make up for lost time. With the “Renaissance” program, the Socialist Party had a program more suitable for our program “Let us advance faster”. Our result thanks to our policies in four years tripled, in contrast to DP or SP. /ibna/