Yesterday's ceremony took place in the state room of Lisbon's Supreme Court of Justice

Judicial year ‘opens’ three months before it shuts

President says: Portuguese Justice is “too slow”

The ceremonial opening of Portugal’s ‘judicial year’ opened yesterday, three months before it is due to close, with a speech by President of the Republic Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa reinforcing the fact that ‘justice’ in this country is “too slow”.

There are so many other adjectives that could be used – but to what effect no-one can be certain. ‘It was even thus’, as the saying goes. Certainly media reports did not seem askance at the timing, diligently transmitting the content of speeches that were essentially copy/pastes of every speech ever made at these solemn events in which many taking part were in judicial ‘fancy-dress’.

President Marcelo said it cannot be ignored that “many Portuguese, unfairly I admit” are dissatisfied with the workings of their justice system.

“The slow pace, which is uneven, in many cases affects the country’s economic and social progress and, above all, the very perception of justice by citizens, and curiously seems to show signs of contaminating alternative formulas of jurisdiction, such as arbitration – incidentally, very expensive for the ordinary citizen,” he opined.

Citizens are not correct in their perception of justice, but the fact that they are not impressed by it “undermines the merit and work of thousands of people”, he said.

The head of State also admitted that “the idea prevails that there is still one justice for the rich and another for the poor”.

To be fair, that does seem the case – one only has to read the tabloids to discover examples.

By coincidence, the ‘instruction phase’ of the BES/GES banking scandal (the alleged institutional crimes that have cost everyday taxpayers billions of euros) is only just about to open, almost eight years since the financial empire collapsed and with a number of charges pending in danger of becoming extinct (due to all the time that has passed). None of the defendants in the BES/GES investigation are poor.

For Marcelo, ‘violation of secrecy of justice’ is another serious problem; as is “the temptation to do justice in the public domain because the impatience and speed of written and spoken opinion is less and less content with endless waits and prefers to judge straight away rather than have to wait a few decades…”

It was altogether the most surreal of ceremonies, in which there were speeches from the head of the Supreme Court Henrique Araújo, Attorney General Lucília Gago, leader of parliament Augusto Santos Silva and the new Justice Minister, recently helicoptered into a ministerial role, Catarina Sarmento e Castro.

Not surprisingly, Ms Sarmento e Castro’s objective is to “increase citizens’ confidence in Justice”.

Perhaps the most down-to-earth comment came from director of the PJ Luís Neves who said: “We have to seek to change the discourse, because we cannot constantly have a wretched one. In the PJ we don’t (complain). There has to be work, standards and rigor. There is no organisation in the world that has all the means it requires”.

Bottom line: the time has long past for complaining about WHY Portuguese justice appears, to the public at large, to be out of step with the 21st century. It is time to bring things up to scratch.

This was the first ceremonial opening of the Portuguese judicial year for almost two and a half years (the interruption having been caused by the pandemic).

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