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114,000 files awaiting trial, VOA: The strategy of the KLJ for backlogged cases raises debates

114,000 files awaiting trial, VOA: The strategy of the KLJ for backlogged cases

The High Judicial Council has recently drafted a 3-year national strategy project for reducing the number of backlogged cases in the Courts, which have become a serious obstacle to access to justice. About 114,000 files are waiting to be judged according to this document, which sees as the main solution the significant increase in the number of trials per judge per year, at a time when the latter have been reduced due to the re-evaluation process . The strategy also includes some measures to help the judicial bodies. Educators in the field of justice and judges asked by the Voice of America express skepticism about its implementation. In the draft strategy of the Supreme Court, which analyzes 4 of the 20 courts in the country, which have the highest volume of backlog cases , about 75%, it is established that the stock of files began to be created after 2018, a moment that coincides with the reduction of the judiciary due to the vetting process.

The situation is more serious in the Court of Appeal of the General Jurisdiction in Tirana, where 26 out of 78 judges, or 33% of the judicial body, exercise their duties, and in the first instance administrative body in Tirana, which currently has 60% of the body, followed by that of the first degree of general jurisdiction in Tirana with 62% and the administrative appeal with over 80 percent.

As a consequence, the number of cases examined in these courts has decreased in relation to the number of incoming cases, bringing with it the increase of backlog files.

The Court of Appeal of the General Jurisdiction has the highest number of backlogged cases with over 37 thousand, (52 thousand waiting to be considered) followed by the administrative court of appeal with nearly 23 thousand. While in the court of first instance in Tirana, 19 are pending

thousand files and in that of the first administrative level, in Tirana, about 7 thousand files are pending.

One of the main objectives for reducing the backlog of cases is related to increasing the number of cases judged by a judge per year. The KLJ finds that in the Court of Appeal of General Jurisdiction the number of cases considered by a judge on average is currently 347 files per year. The scenario that closes the stock of backlog files in 2029, in this court, foresees a 50% increase in the rate of judges, while the draft also mentions scenarios with a 10 or 20% increase in this rate.

The rate of the judge's work is determined by a decision of the former High Council of Justice (KLD), from 2010, where as an evaluation criterion for judges of Appeal, a rate of not less than 150 criminal cases per year is determined, or 200 cases in civil cases.

The Supreme Court of Justice has so far not determined a new rate, while suggesting to take as a basis the current average, which in itself is almost double the rate in force. The proposal to increase it further, up to 50 percent, is seen with concern by the judges of Appeal, who say that they have given the maximum in a time of crisis, when their number has decreased significantly for 6 years

"The judges have tried to balance the absence of their colleagues, to do their best, despite the fact that we have not succeeded, because we know that the number of cases expected to be judged is relatively very high. Aiming to increase the number of trial cases by three times the current rate in force is not only not motivating for judges, but is perceived by them as a means of pressure. Society does not benefit from judges put under pressure," says Edlira Petri, judge for the media at the Court of Appeal of the General Jurisdiction, for the Voice of America.

An increase in the productivity of judges is also foreseen in the Administrative Court of Appeal. According to the strategy, a judge currently examines an average of 225 cases per year. According to the most optimistic scenario, the issues of

the backlog is zero in 2030 if the number of cases per year per judge increases by 80%. Even in the other two courts, the one of the First Degree of General Jurisdiction in Tirana and the Administrative one of the First Degree, in Tirana an increase in the productivity of judges is foreseen, but without specifying to what extent.

The Supreme Court of Justice told the Voice of America that the increase in the quantitative rate for judges was designed taking into account the problematic situation in the judicial system. This institution does not seem to see any problem with coping with the increasing load, even "within the ethical and professional evaluation it can be considered a motivation mechanism for them" - says the HCJ.

The project envisages that the increase in the productivity of judges will be accompanied by other measures that help the judiciary, starting from the ongoing filling of vacant positions in the courts, the addition of non-judicial staff, their training, inventory and categorization of cases. backlogs, the use of standard models for court decisions, legal changes to reduce and prevent backlogs, and in the system for issuing execution orders or conducting remote court hearings.

The pedagogue of judicial administration at the School of Magistrates, Vangjel Kosta, told the Voice of America that the auxiliary mechanisms for judges provided for in the strategy of the Supreme Court of Justice are not convincing.

"If judges are helped more with auxiliary staff and technology, of course the number of cases that a judge will judge will be higher. But it should be seen when these aids come. Because we have to understand that we can talk about aids provided by law, but we don't have aids in the courts. From this point of view in the strategy I see only mechanical figures and do not see a logical connection why the referee should judge more. I know many judges, I have seen them tired and depressed, because in order to respond to the needs of the citizens, they burdened themselves more than necessary" - argues Mr. Vangjel Kosta.

Migena Laska, media judge at the Court of First Instance, Criminal Chamber, in Tirana, says that there are no backlogged cases in this section, due to procedural deadlines, while admitting that the workload of recent years is unprecedented. Ms. Laska says that in 2023, a judge judged an average of 800-1000 cases from 500, 6 years ago.

"The productivity of judges can definitely be increased, but first of all I think the number of judges should be increased. The number of judicial administration and the professional qualification of this administration should definitely be increased. There are several links that support and help the work of the judge. We want a solution, if you find a solution for how we will judge more, we will agree to do more. I myself have made 1,000 files a year" - says Migena Laska, media judge at the Court of First Instance, in Tirana.

Speaking about the auxiliary mechanisms for judges, foreseen in the strategy of the KLGj, the judge of the Court of Appeal, Mrs. Petri emphasizes that the productivity of judges is expected to increase in April, while raising doubts whether these mechanisms will be ready at the same time.

"The number of cases can be reached but not in the situation we are in now, it can only be reached if other measures start to be implemented temporarily. There is no clear indication of when the interactive mechanisms will be implemented. In the strategy, it is foreseen to set up certain groups with judicial administration which will be trained for the inventory of cases. A deadline has been set, which is June of this year. It seems practically impossible, because it is the process of recruiting and training them and then inventorying a very high number of files. It doesn't seem realistic. On the other hand, changes are foreseen in the law, in the codes of procedures. We know very well that regardless of the desire of the HCJ, it depends on the assembly" - argues judge Edlira Petri.

The HCJ told the Voice of America that the increase in the quantitative rate for judges in the initial phase is seen as an ambitious objective, adding that no process can remain hostage to another process.

But in the proposed legal changes is also the facilitation of the recruitment procedures of legal assistants by providing for the same procedure as the recruitment of other civil judicial officers in the courts. This avoids some strong guarantee elements currently provided for such as recruitment through the School of Magistrates, their professional testing, as well as the asset control that is carried out in this case. Such an intervention could sound like a step back towards the rigorous criteria provided for by the reform in Justice.

Teacher Kosta at the school of magistracy assesses that the initiative of the KLGJ in itself is welcome, but he thinks that:

"A tired judge, an exhausted judge, I do not believe that he will give decisions that create credibility as fair decisions. And their product can be a hasty and impatient behavior in relation to the litigants. This translates into damage to public credibility as judges are moving from a normal trial to a speedy trial to reduce the stock. This is not the way to reduce the number of backlogged cases in the courts" - says Mr. Vangjel Kosta.

The draft HLCG strategy for reducing the backlog predicts that an improvement in the reduction of the stock can be achieved around 2028 if certain targets are met. After the consultation in the 4 courts with the deepest issues, it is expected that this document will be accompanied by suggestions or remarks from representatives of the judicial bodies before its approval in the KLGJ./VOA

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