The Albanian Court system has been the focus of public debate regarding corruption for years, especially in the media. Albanian judges and prosecutors, most of the time, cannot justify their wealth and very often delegate their assets to their spouses or other relatives. This kind of corruption, which has been pursued by charges against them or other types of investigation, has never found a solution. The opinion that prevails among the population is that only people who do not have financial means to bribe legal officials, end up in prison. There are many cases in which individuals with criminal records, such as drug trafficking or various other crimes, are arrested and then released within short period of time, only because they have sufficient money to pay bribes.
The Albanian law regarding vetting of judicial officials was accompanied by a lot of debate among politicians, regarding the way the verification of a judge’s assets was to be performed. By law, a judge’s resignation is the only way they have to escape the vetting process, which through the evaluation procedure, will scan their assets and professional skills. This law has a loophole for all those judges or prosecutors who do not want to undergo this assessment–to resign immediately from the positions they hold. This is prescribed in Article 52 of the Vetting Law, which stressed that, “The assessed subject has the right to resign from position no later than 3 months, after this law enters into force.”
The resignation will be submitted to the President of the Republic in written form and will be published on the official website of the Presidency. In the case of resignation, the Commission will discontinue evaluation proceedings. This provision helps a corrupt official leave the scene without rumor, having their pockets full of money.
On October 5, 2016, the Democratic Party appealed to the Constitutional Court, disagreeing with some articles in the law, calling them unconstitutional. The main dispute was related to the role institutions under the executive branch will have, when investigating judges and prosecutors.
The law was temporarily suspended by the Constitutional Court. It remained frozen until January 19 of this year, when the Constitutional Court decided to reject the Democratic Party’s claims against the Vetting Law, paving the way for the implementation of this key judicial reform package.
The decision was made after a 3-hour meeting with the participation of eight members of the Constitutional Court. This was done soon after the Venice Commission arrived in Tirana, certifying this law as compatible with our Constitution.
Recognizing the conflict of interest with this law, the Constitutional Court had addressed the Venice Commission for an opinion. On December 10, 2016, the Commission found that the law is in accordance with European standards and the institutions who will carry out the vetting have the ability to confirm information on officials that is derived from other branches of government or other subordinate units.
In a brief statement for the press, the Constitutional Court stated that “After reviewing and analyzing the claims submitted by the applicant, as well as the submissions of interested parties, we decided to reject the claim”.
The Vetting Law enforcement is a key condition of the European Union to open negotiations for EU membership of Albania. The Constitutional Court decision gives a green light to the establishment of institutions that will “sieve” judges and prosecutors’ performance, as well as the launch of a process that is expected to “purge” the system of justice from suspected corrupt people connected to organized crime.
A week after the enforcement of this Law, no prosecutor or judge has yet resigned, contrary to the initial belief that there would have been a huge flux of resignations on the part of officials involved. The near future will reveal more.