ATHENS – The trial that led to the jailing of the hierarchy and dozens of members of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party went into a fifth year – about half what it takes to get alleged tax cheats and others accused of serious crimes into court.
That’s because Greece’s judicial system mirrors much of the way the country functions: s l o o o o w l l y. It can take a decade or more for some cases to go before judges and even 43 reform bills passed since 2000 to try to speed the wheels of justice have gotten bogged down.
In a review, Kathimerini noted the malfunctioning of the courts, as well as other major institutions, with Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis trying to accelerate digitalization of notoriously laborious state bureaucracies.
“Greek governments have also undermined their own logic by abolishing any limits to which each party at a trial is entitled to ask for a postponement,” the paper noted, and defendants – including for murder or violent crimes – don’t even have to be in the courtroom for the trial or a sentencing, as happened in the Golden Dawn case.
Courts have cramped conditions and judges work short hours 9-12 in the morning and 1-3 in the afternoon and sessions are tedious, with defendants routinely being granted as many delays as they want or refusing to show up, an infuriating frustration for prosecutors or plaintiffs in civil suit cases who are often just outwaited.
Justice ministers often say they will change the way of the courts and rapidly back down because of opposition instead of using their authority to make the system function better, unwilling to confront lawyers and court clerks and judges who don’t want to work longer.
Current Justice Minister Kostas Tsiaras did this year during the COVID-19 pandemic cut summer vacations by 15 days, the courts reopening on Sept. 1 instead of Sept. 15 but hasnt moved to speed the system otherwise despite prevailing with that move.