TIRANA (Reuters) - The European Union and the United States urged Albania’s judges on Monday to back a planned overhaul of the Balkan nation’s judicial system, which is widely seen as corrupt and opaque.
The reforms, a precondition for the launch of Albania’s accession talks with the EU, will introduce the vetting of all judges, weeding out corrupt ones while promoting those who are honest and able.
“If I were a judge in Albania ... I would be the first to demand the reform, including the vetting, because I would want to protect the respect and appreciation of my own work and my profession,” the EU’s envoy to Tirana, Romana Vlahutin, told a conference of judges.
Opponents say the reforms will lead to the dismissal of many judges in a country they say already has the lowest number per capita in Europe and thereby aggravate already chronic delays in the workings of the judicial system.
The chairman of Albania’s Supreme Court, Xhezair Zaganjori, said the planned reforms would have met less resistance if judges had been allowed some say in their drafting, though he acknowledged the high level of public distrust in the courts due to pervasive corruption and a lack of transparency.
The EU and the United States played an active role in drafting the reforms, which will need a two thirds parliamentary majority to become law.
The U.S. ambassador to Tirana, Donald Lu, said any judge wearing a watch that cost more than his car could be automatically deemed corrupt, prompting an embarrassed silence in the conference hall.
“You (judges) should become the new symbol of the system, in place of the image today of corrupt judges wearing Cartier watches,” Lu added.
Reporting By Benet Koleka, Editing by Gareth Jones
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