“I can’t believe it,” a man convicted for drunk-driving told the Resident. “I should have had my licence taken away at the beginning of the month, but no-one has said a word!
“In fact, I found out that there is nothing I can do anyway. They have not got the power to remove my licence in the court until they get the paperwork, and no one seems to know when that will be.”
Elsewhere, all kinds of people – from criminals caught red-handed looting multibanco machines to the parents of Madeleine McCann locked in a bitter defamation battle – are feeling the consequences of the effective collapse two weeks ago of the country’s justice system.
Lawyers, magistrates, court workers and politicians have been braying for the resignation of Justice Minister Paula Teixeira da Cruz, as commentators consider the situation “utterly shameful”.
“If this was a serious country, many heads would roll,” former PJ inspector-turned-writer and columnist Francisco Moita Flores wrote last week.
Instead we have simply seen Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho dismiss concerns – calling the apparently compounding chaos “a little problem”.
Even President Cavaco Silva – surprisingly quiet over a number of key issues recently – has only surfaced to say things have not gone quite the way he would have hoped.
Pressed by lawyers to convene an emergency Council of State, Cavaco Silva is quoted as saying the idea was “absurd”.
Público, in an article published in the first week of judicial pandemonium, writes that “the highest magistrate of the nation” retorted: “It is not always possible to have everything running in a perfect way.”
This week, Jornal de Notícias warns what does seem possible. In an article entitled “Justice IT system working but empty”, it quotes a specialist who suggests the knock-on effects of what has been the worst “worst-case-scenario” of any kind of “re-drawing of the judicial map” could take anything between one to two years to sort out.
In that time, thousands of cases currently in limbo will come up against “time-barring” – and thus an endless number of criminal issues run the risk of dissolving long before they see the light of day.
Countdown to collapse: how Portugal has ‘lost’ 3.5 million legal cases
It all centres on the famous ‘re-drawing of the judicial map’ – the government’s hugely unpopular plan that has effectively seen the closure of 47 courthouses up and down the country and the centralising of everything into 23 district courts.
The move that has seen flustered court workers staggering in and out of parked cars throughout the summer – loading cardboard boxes full of sensitive material for dispatch to new tribunals – also involved updating the courts’ IT system, CITIUS (taken from the Latin for ‘rapid’).
Far from being rapid, CITIUS has proved to be the equivalent of a galactic black hole.
As the new judicial map was rolled out on September 1, CITIUS promptly imploded, jettisoning millions of cases into virtual oblivion.
Judges, magistrates and court workers who need to use the system everyday simply could not find the information they needed.
Two weeks after the meltdown, the Justice Ministry declared its portal was going back on track.
And on Monday this week, it rode back into the fray… minus the 3.5 million cases that should have ‘migrated there’ during the change-over.
“Citius is at zero,” Bar association president Elina Fraga told reporters.
Fraga recently described the Justice Ministry’s handling of the crisis akin to Saddam Hussein’s platitudes that “all was well” when Baghdad was under attack.
“For the time being, justice workers, magistrates and lawyers can only use CITIUS for new cases,” Jornal de Notícias reiterated on Tuesday. “For that, we mean cases initiated since yesterday.”
The only exception, adds the paper, are previous cases marked as urgent.
“As to these, the possibility of their electronic transfer to the new system has been safeguarded.”
In other words, certain high-profile cases – like Face Oculta which was concluded with a record number of prison sentences last week – may go ahead as scheduled.
The majority, though, will not – and this is what most troubles law-makers.
Judges syndicate bosses Rui Cardoso e Mouraz Lopes are pushing for “time bars” to be suspended, otherwise painstaking months of police work could count for nothing, as myriad cases are thrown out on unavoidable technicalities.
Justice Minister was warned about CITIUS two years ago
As the chaos continues – Jornal de Notícias stresses the government’s dogged refusal to give a date as to when CITIUS will be fully operational with all relevant data – Diário de Notícias reveals that Paula Teixeira da Cruz was warned two years ago that her plans faced disaster.
Indeed the IT team running CITIUS elaborated a 43-page document in which they suggested contingency plans for avoiding the web portal’s collapse.
According to DN, “this information was ignored”. The Justice Ministry has also refused to elaborate as to why.
All that can be certain is that the original team resigned “en-masse” in February 2013, alleging Teixeira da Cruz had effectively stripped them of their functions.
A year-and-a-half on, the Justice Minister is facing the consequences, with multiple calls for her resignation which, up until now, Passos Coelho has not taken onboard.
The stress nonetheless is taking its toll. As CITIUS prepared to limp back online, Teixeira da Cruz was conspicuous in her absence at the annual judges’ meeting in Figueira da Foz. According to newspapers, the increasingly worn-out looking minister alleged health problems.