"The high level of corruption in the judiciary seriously impedes the proper functioning of the judiciary and undermines public trust in justice and the rule of law in Albania. The authorities have to step up their efforts to ensure that all cases of corruption in the judiciary are effectively investigated and prosecuted", said Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, releasing today a report following his visit to the country from 23 to 27 September 2013.
The national reform strategy and action plan to strengthen Albania's judiciary are encouraging measures, but more resolute action is needed, including more transparency and merit-based procedures in appointing and evaluating judges. In this context, the Commissioner recommends depoliticising the functioning of the judiciary, starting by strengthening the independence of the High Council of Justice, which ensures the integrity of Albania's judiciary. "The members of this Council should be elected by a qualified majority in parliament and should exert a more decisive influence on the appointment, promotion and disciplinary proceedings of judges, including those of the Supreme Court. Any improper political interference in the functioning of the judiciary should be avoided. This includes removing the involvement of the Minister of Justice in the disciplinary proceedings against judges". The Commissioner also invited the authorities to adopt necessary legislative measures which would provide for a qualified majority in the parliament's vote and consent concerning the appointment of the General Prosecutor by the President of the Republic.
The very slow pace at which Albania implements judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, notably those relating to the non-enforcement of domestic court and administrative decisions, is an additional factor which considerably weakens the rule of law in the country. "All judgments delivered by the Court must be promptly, fully and effectively implemented. In particular, the authorities have to address the persistent problem of excessive length of judicial proceedings, and create an effective domestic remedy in this regard."
Furthermore, shortcomings in the implementation of the legal aid legislation hinder effective access to justice especially by vulnerable people. "The authorities should address this issue in close co-operation with expert NGOs. I welcome the authorities' plan to reduce court fees in order to ensure effective access to justice. Clear guidance should nevertheless be provided to the district and appeal judges concerning the implementation of the 2013 Constitutional Court decision relating to this subject-matter."
The long-standing problem of ill-treatment and of impunity for serious human rights violations committed by law enforcement officers, including those relating to the violent events of 21 January 2011 in Tirana, continue to be an issue of serious concern. "I am very concerned at the increase of recorded incidents of ill-treatment, including torture. It is urgent to investigate all these cases along with the reported unlawful acts by law enforcement officers committed during and after the events of 21 January 2011 and to bring those responsible to justice. For the process to be credible and conducive to a restored public confidence in the state and its institutions, it is important to impose adequate, dissuasive penalties on any law enforcement official involved in serious human rights violations."
Lastly, the Commissioner recommends improving access by detainees, including juveniles, to a lawyer and a medical doctor and ensuring that psychologists are always present during criminal proceedings involving juveniles. He also criticises the over-reliance on remand in custody or during trial, recommending using this measure only as a last resort, prioritising existing alternatives to detention.