Human rights watchdogs have criticized plans by Albania’s High Judicial Council and the Ministry of Justice to reduce the number of courts in the country.
“Reducing the number of judges as a result of the vetting process should not lead us to short-term solutions by significantly reducing the number of courts,” head of the Helsinki Committee in Albania, Erida Skendaj, told journalists.
“The legislature and the judiciary need to think of effective solutions to fill these vacancies. The new court map undermines access to justice for groups in need,” she continued.
The proposed plan to reduce Albania’s number of courts represents an attempt to address the shortage of judges caused by the current vetting process, and an overall overload of the justice system.
According to the draft plan, the number of first instance courts in Albania will be reduced to 12. The High Judicial Council has also proposed merging six courts of appeal into one single court, the National Court of Appeals. The plan also proposes slashing the number of administrative courts from six to three, to be based in Lushnje and Tirana.
All up, the number of courts in Albania could be reduced from 39 to 20.
“Our concept is less court and more quality,” explained the president of the High Judicial Court, Naureda Llagami.
The proposed new map is set to be approved by the Council of Ministers.
Even so, civil rights organizations have called on the High Judicial Court and the Minister of Justice to review the plans. In a joint statement, a bloc of opposing groups said the reorganization of the courts and their territorial jurisdiction remains a pivotal issue, and that plans should focus on “increasing access, quality and reducing costs for citizens in obtaining justice and in respect of the right to a fair trial.”
In particular, civic groups are concerned for the legal needs of more vulnerable citizens in Albania, such as the Roma and Egyptian communities, vulnerable women, young people and minors, the LGBTI community, pensioners, people with disabilities, citizens with economic disadvantages, and incarcerated citizens.
The opposing bloc of rights groups have submitted their complaints to the drafting team, calling for a review to “avoid the risk of collapse in terms of access that citizens should have to the judiciary.”
The Bar Association in Shkodra has also protested the plans, bringing up its opposition in a meeting with the High Council of Justice and representatives of the Ministry of Justice.
Photo by Mariakray via Pixabay