Albanian attorneys on strike to protest court reduction plan

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albanian attorneys on Tuesday boycotted all the court procedures to protest a new reorganization plan that cuts the number of courts almost by half.

The High Judicial Council, the country’s top institution on courts, decided to cut the number of the first instance courts from 22 to 13, the appeals courts from six to one and the administrative courts from six to two. That means lawyers and their clients must sometimes go to other cities for trials, or to the capital for the appeals court.

Its decision last week said the moves aimed at “increasing the efficiency of the judicial system for citizens” and also a better distribution of the judges’ workload.

But attorneys said it was doing the opposite, violating citizens’ access to the courts and delaying the court processes. It also accused the council of not taking their opinion into consideration.

The attorneys have boycotted 500 court cases this week, threatening to continue the strike unless reorganization plan is cancelled.

Judicial corruption has plagued post-communist Albania, a NATO member since 2009, hampering its democratic processes and slowing its path into the European Union.

In 2016, Albania passed a judicial reform seeking to root out bribery and ensure that judges and prosecutors are independent from politics. Hundreds of judges and prosecutors have been fired following a still ongoing vetting process.