With the start of the new Judicial year officially opened in Lisbon’s Supreme Tribunal of Justice yesterday (Thursday, September 1), Attorney General Joana Marques Vidal used the occasion to highlight magistrates’ dis-motivation over the country’s perennial problem of corruption.
“The scarcity of magistrates prejudices the possibility of responding to the challenges of combating serious and complex economic and financial criminality and corruption”, she told assembled judges, lawyers, Justice Minister Francisca Van Dunem and President of the Republic Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa.
Magistrates that are in service have to work extra hard, she added, “which has created an environment of dis-motivation. The situation has, she warned, if Portugal’s public ministry is to “face the challenges” constantly appearing on the already cluttered judicial horizon.
As papers explain, this year has seen magistrates struggling to complete major investigations including Operation Marquês – centering on alleged fraudulent activities of former Socialist prime minister José Sócrates – BES (whose alleged banking villains are all still free), Labyrinth (purported Golden Visa fraud involving a former government minister), Achilles (police corruption), Fizz (a supposed money-laundering operation involving Angola), Rota Atlântico (a money-laundering involving the Congo and various high-level Portuguese personalities) to name just a few.
On a more positive note, Vidal said that 2016 had in fact seen more cases resolved than the year before.
In percentage terms, case resolutions were “111% better than the 106% registered in 2015” and as newspapers have pointed out, this year sees the reopening of courtrooms up and down the country that were closed in the darker days of austerity (click here).
Vidal’s condemnation of her sector’s inherent problems came 14 days before the latest time-limits are due to kick-in on long-running Marquês, though there are still possibilities that the inquiry will be extended.
JUSTICE MINISTER PROMISES “GREATER INVESTMENT”
The ceremony also heard from Justice Minister Francisca Van Dunem who promised a greater investment in the combat of corruption and highlighted the need for “less but better legislating”.
“We need to start seriously investing in the training of magistrates and justice officials who work in particularly complex criminal areas like corruption, large frauds, serious money-market crime and property issues”, she said – adding that her ministry also intended “to insist on the reinforcement of the PJ (judicial police) and the development of communications and information systems”.
MARCELO CALLS FOR JUSTICE ‘PACT”
Speaking for the first time at this opening of the judicial year, President Marcelo defended the need for a pact so that justice could become “a national priority”.
It is not a new premise, reports SIC television news, but Marcelo’s insistence on it reinforces the idea.
“A pact that starts with a cultural change in society”, Marcelo told his audience. A pact that would involve social partners and politicians without altering the role of sovereign bodies and political parties.
In his 17-minute speech, President Marcelo left an appeal: “Portugal is waiting for everyone who talks here today, and many others who have a word to say in their lives on justice and for justice, that there should be a fundamental nucleus that gives advanced priority to pressing decisions”.