Speak Out!

Justice is in a chaotic state in Portugal, according to the head of the Portuguese Ordem Dos Advogados (Order of Lawyers), José Miguel Júdice. The lawyer has recently begun a 30-day consultation, during which he is hoping to expose some of the supposed failings of the Portuguese justice system.

“O Bastonário”, as he is known – “the barrister” – has invited lawyers across the country to send him details of delayed cases that have not been brought to court and tried. One example of delay involved a five year wait for the court to inform a citizen of a lawsuit against him to recover an alleged debt of 270 contos (1,350 euros). Another is a wait of a year before the parties concerned in a land dispute were brought to court. These are just two cases of problems in Portuguese justice, making up the so-called ‘gallery of horrors’ that illustrates the unsatisfactory state of justice in the country.

The initiative from the Order of Lawyers marked the beginning of ‘Lawyers’ Week’ during which Júdice will suggest concrete proposals to reform the many problems of justice in Portugal. “If the justice system functioned properly, there would be less unemployment, corruption and vice,” he explained.

Challenged to explain how enhanced justice could aid job creation, Júdice has said that one can gauge whether the atmosphere is conducive to entrepreneurs and investors by examining the effectiveness of the justice system. “If an eviction, following non-payment of rent, takes three or four years to accomplish, then who in the intervening period will want to rent out houses – an essential prerequisite for the mobility of workers?”

The lawyer highlighted the example of South Africa where, because of an absence of judges, “the most accredited and respected people in society can propose taking on the role of judge”, something he supports to “end the current state of affairs”. This is just one initiative that, the judge hopes, will start public discussion about how to improve the legal system in Portugal – he is organising various debates in the country under the theme of rights, duties, freedom and responsibility. “There is a lot in common between a hotel and a court. Every day people come and go and the rooms are cleaned out in the interim.” This is an analogy frequently invoked by Júdice in his battle to alert the public to delays resulting from the malfunctioning of justice and the courts.

An alert illustrated by the denunciation of 40 real cases that have dragged on endlessly through the courts for many years. Júdice says that all the parties involved share the blame for the apparent incompetence of the judicial system and says he does not want to single people out, but says: “People don’t want to change – they are frightened of talking”.

Júdice denies he is calling for a change in government, but he recognises that, at the moment, “there is almost a puerile method of matching politicians to their ministerial portfolios. It goes something like this – You like clean air? Do you want to be Minister of Environment?” Júdice suggests a type of business management for the courts, although he denies he is suggesting anything like privatisation. But one thing is certain – he wants to alter the status quo: “I want to give a punch in the stomach to our conformity, to our tendency to remain quiet,” he says.