Luís Menezes Leitão (archive image from RTP)

President of Bar Association admits image of Portuguese justice “totally discredited”

Reacting to the report attesting to a dip in the quality of Portugal’s democracy (click here), president of the Bar Association (Ordem dos Advogados) Luís Menezes Leitão has come out with all guns blazing.

Writing in Correio da Manhã today, he says: “According to a report by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), the quality of democracy in Portugal has deteriorated because of the fragility of our justice system which has suffered setbacks in three areas: independence of the judicial system, corruption and equality before the law.

“In truth, the independence of the judicial system is put at risk by the constant revolving doors between the government and the magistrature. Corruption is clearly increasing, after inconsequent strategies having been presented. And equality before the law is manifestly non-existent. One only has to see that rich and powerful people manage to evade the action of justice, including by fleeing the country without being pursued, while common citizens suffer heavy prison terms every time they commit crimes.

“The image of Portuguese justice is for this reason totally discredited in the public’s opinion. It is vital that it is recovered. It is more than time to guarantee the independence of courts, efficiently combat corruption and bring an end to the impunity currently enjoyed by the rich and powerful.

“If we continue with a weak justice system, our State of Law will end up at risk”.

This damning indictment of justice comes as minister in charge of Portuguese justice Francisca Van Dunem has said she will not be remaining at the post if the government wins legislative elections coming in the New Year, because it is time to hand over to someone new.

She told Público last week that her intention had been to leave the government last summer, when, she claims, a reshuffle had been promised.

“I was meant to be in the government until the end of the Portuguese presidency of the European Union. This was the agreement that we had”, she explained, adding that minister of Justice “is not my profession”; “it is not my place. I believe I should go to my place”, particularly after running the ministry for the last six years.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com