Along with other key priorities, judicial reform remained essential in Albania’s EU accession process and could be transformative for other reforms, the Stabilisation and Association Council (SA Council) between Albania and the European Union concluded on its ninth meeting held on 15 November 2017.
“In this context, the EU welcomed the appointment of the vetting institutions in June 2017 and highlighted that this important success represents a step forward in the implementation of the justice reform in Albania. It also welcomed the deployment of the International Monitoring Operation (IMO) observers which have started under the lead of the European Commission”, the press release says.
Law on Reassessment of Judges and Prosecutors, known as the “vetting law” was passed by the Parliament in August 2016 notwithstanding the criticism expressed by the opposition MPs. The aim of the law is to check the professional preparedness of Albanian judges and prosecutors, their moral integrity and the level of independence from organised crime, corruption, and political influence, the Balkan Insight reports.
The passing of the law followed the adoption of the judicial reforms’ package on 22 July 2016, which was demanded by the EU and supported by both the government and the opposition. The Constitution of Albania, as amended in July 2016 enables the deployment of the IMO, aimed at supervising the vetting process in Albania.
According to Genoveva Ruiz Calavera, Director for Western Balkans at the EU Directorate General for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, “the vetting process is so important for Albania that it can be considered a process of historic relevance, a defining moment for the justice system in the country, but not only. Strengthening an impartial, independent, accountable, efficient and truly professional judiciary has relevance also for a broader challenge to irreversibly consolidate the rule of law in Albania, once for all.”
The vetting institutions, i.e. the Independent Qualification Commission, the Appeals College, and the Public Commissioners, were voted in June 2017. According to the Vetting law, the Independent Qualification Commission will re-evaluate all the judges and prosecutors within its 5-year mandate. On the other hand, the complaints made by the subject of re-evaluation and public commissioners against the Commission’s decisions will be assessed by the Appeals College at the Constitutional Court.
The whole process will be carried out under the supervision of the international observers appointed by the IMO, with the aim to oversee the process of vetting the members of the judiciary. The monitoring of the vetting process has been envisaged as a long-term task, which will last only until all relevant members of the judiciary undergo the necessary re-evaluation of their qualification and integrity. However, the IMO has no executive functions, the re-evaluation per se is carried out by the aforementioned domestic vetting institutions.
After months of delay, the process has been set in motion. The Independent Qualification Commission has organised a lottery to pick a number of judges, prosecutors and the Constitutional and High Court cases that will be re-evaluated, Albanian portal Exit writes. Among the selected are, so far, 35 dossiers from the Constitutional Court and the High court, several judges from the Court of Tirana and the Court of Serious Crimes and several prosecutors from the Prosecution of Tirana.
It remains to be seen at what pace the process will unfold. However, any further delay in the process could detriment Albania’s aspiration to have the accession negotiations launched as soon as possible.
Publication of this article has been supported by the Balkan Trust for Democracy of the German Marshall Fund of the United States