Time for change in the Albanian judiciary: looking back at a year of vetting process

Time for change in the Albanian judiciary: looking back at a year of vetting process
By Genoveva Ruiz Calavera, Director for the Western Balkans at the European Commission and Chair of the International Monitoring Operation (IMO)

Director for the Western Balkans at the European Commission and Chair of the International Monitoring Operation (IMO).

After months of building the foundations and preparing the ground, in the past few weeks, there have been several important achievements in the vetting process of the judiciary in Albania, which should be marked before the year ends. The members of the Independent Qualification Commission, who process vetting cases in first instance, have almost reached their 100th decision in less than a year from the first vetting hearing. At the same time, the bases for the new institutions that will guarantee the independent self-governing of the judiciary have been laid and the two new High Judicial and High Prosecutorial Councils have just held their respective constitutive sessions. These achievements follow months of hard work and challenges, some of which seemed difficult to overcome at some point.

Each of the approximately 800 judges and prosecutors across the country are undergoing an investigation of their integrity, criminal background and professional competence. Of all the cases processed so far, almost half resulted in the dismissal or voluntary resignation of those assessed. The European Commission is very encouraged to learn from the EU and US magistrates who are overseeing this process as part of the International Monitoring Operation that vetting investigations are conducted thoroughly and professionally. While most appeals are pending, one can see this process is already yielding results.

This monumental undertaking, and the high number of dismissals, led to the postponement of the formation of new judicial institutions and impacted the functioning of judicial institutions. But as problematic as they are, the temporary restrictions in the functioning of the justice system, which even resulted in the loss of quorum at the Constitutional Court, are inevitable to build a judiciary that Albanian citizens can trust to honour the rule of law above everything else.

Now that the new Justice Appointment Council has been formed, along with the new separated High Prosecutorial Council and High Judicial Council, a call goes to all the newly appointed members to live up to their task at best, which is to ensure that the judiciary can function independently, free from any undue influence or pressure from politics or from any other external force. It is also crucial that all the authorities responsible to appoint members at the Constitutional Court will exercise their duties in a timely and professional manner.

The latest developments show that the reform is delivering, and that Albania is on a good path towards the establishment of a justice system free of incompetence, bias and corruption.

The past year has seen the beginning of a process that will take time, and the vetting itself is only a small part of the judiciary reform and overall transformation Albania will continue to go through in the future for the consolidation of the rule of law. This is what citizens of Albania want and deserve, and therefore the European Union will continue accompanying the institutions of Albania is this historical endeavour.

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