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2020.10.23 14:30

EU’s praise of Lithuanian justice system ignored political pressure, lawyers say

Jurga Bakaitė, LRT.lt2020.10.23 14:30

On September 30, the European Commission (EC) presented the first-ever report on the rule of law in EU member states. Although it praised the Lithuanian justice system, the country’s judges and lawyers say the report glossed over mounting political problems. 

This year, there have been attempts to apply political pressure on the courts, "which is completely missing in the report", Dainius Žalimas, the president of the Constitutional Court, told LRT.lt.

According to him, the Constitutional Court came under political pressure after it striked down the parliament's decision to establish a commission to investigate the influence of interest groups on politicians in 2008–2018.

Read more: Lithuanian judge turns to court over rule of law

Later, the head of the commission Agnė Širinskienė of the governing Farmers and Greens Union turned to the Venice Commission for alleged connections of Žalimas to other political parties in Lithuania.

But the EC report did not mention these incidents, said Žalimas, adding that the pressure was akin to the situation in Poland that has received criticism for its politicisation of the justice system.

Read more: Lithuanian judges slam PM's support for Poland's judicial reform

Ignas Vėgėlė, head of the Lithuanian Bar Association, said that the report was incomplete because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The EC reached out to the association but cancelled fieldwork and live meetings which made accurate analysis difficult.

“The EC based the report on document analysis and not on real-life practice,” Vėgėlė explained.

“Our legislation is formally in line with the European Convention on Human Rights, the recommendations of the Council of Europe. But in reality, we have many problems implementing that legislation […]. It is the Achilles heel of Lithuania,” he added.

In response to the criticism, Arnoldas Pranckevičius, head of the EC Representation in Lithuania, said that the justice system report was a very short document and that expectations for it were too high.

“This is the first report like this in all EU member states. […] Reports are ‘living’ documents that constantly deepen and expand. Things that have not been addressed in the report this year will be addressed next year,” Pranckevičius added.

The report said that Lithuania’s “justice system has been subject to a significant number of reforms, related to the appointment of judges, the structure of the Supreme Court and the judicial map”.

It also said the reforms “appear to have had a positive impact on the efficiency and quality of the justice system” and “the perceived independence of the judiciary has improved”.

Among positive improvements, the EC mentioned the Constitutional Court’s clarification of “the scope of the functional immunity of judges”. It also said that the justice system in Lithuania presented “good results in terms of efficiency, with short disposition times and low backlogs of cases”.