Greek Court Backlog May Free Prisoners

Because of delays in processing cases, many suspects charged with serious crimes may have to be let out of detention if they aren't tried before an 18-month limit is reached.

ATHENS – Nikos Maziotis, the Greek terrorist who vanished after being released from prison last year because his 18-month detention period expired before he could be tried, might soon be getting a lot more company.

The notoriously-clogged Greek courts, which work short hours and few days, resulting in delays of up to a decade or more in some cases, are so far behind in processing work that many more potentially dangerous suspects could be released from pre-trial custody, to the head of the national union of judges and prosecutors.

Briefing a parliamentary committee, Vassiliki Thanou warned that suspects who aren’t tried before their 18 months detention expires will have to be let go with no promise they will return. He said none are scheduled to go on trial this year alone.

According to data he submitted,, the number of cases given Greek magistrates more than doubled between 2008 and 2010, from 4,000 to 8,500 – on top of 500,000 pending cases. He said it’s costing the government lost revenues as well, as there’s a pool of 1.5 billion euros ($2.03 billion) in tax evasion monies going uncollected because of a lack of prosecution.

Greece has had the leaders of the ultra extreme-right Golden Dawn party in detention for several months now pending a trial on charges of running a criminal gang but she hinted they could be let go when their 18 months runs out next year as it’s unlikely they will be tried before then.

Also slated to be released are suspected organized crime figures and others charged with terrorism, especially those being held as members of the Conspiracy of Cells of Fire who met in jail with November 17 terrorist Christodoulos Xiros, who vanished from a furlough this month he had been given despite serving six life sentences for his role in six assassinations.

With so many prisoners in overcrowded jails, the government also is mulling a pilot program for electronic surveillance, such as ankle bracelets, so that some could be released but still tracked. That could begin in the next few months, Justice Minister Haralambos Athanasiou told Parliament.

Overcrowding at correctional facilities across the country has prompted the government to examine the criteria regarding the release of inmates convicted over certain felonies, provided they have served two-fifths of their sentence, the minister said. He didn’t say while Xiros wasn’t required to be under electronic or manual surveillance.