Ruairí O’Connell speaks at the presentation of the Kosovo Law Institute report ‘Catching the small fish, leaving the big fish go free'.
[Original speech delivered in Albanian language]
Dear Mrs. Minister Hoxha, Dear Mr. Idrizi, Dear Mr. Isufaj, Dear judges, prosecutors, media representatives, and all you present,
I am pleased to be here today among prosecutors, judges, civil society and other key stakeholders, for the publication of the second report of the Kosovo Law Institute.
As you know, the rule of law and the fight against corruption is one of my passions. The work of the judicial system in general, and judges and prosecutors in particular, are essential to the rule of law. We have seen that the number of indictments has increased this year, and this is something to be welcomed. The Kosovo Judicial Council and the Kosovo Prosecutorial Council have drafted action plans and strategies relevant to their work priorities, and this is also good. Minister Hoxha on the other hand has taken upon a great task of reviewing the rule of law sector. These policies are necessary and essential and require maximum support.
However, policy implementation yields results. When speaking about results, we also see that in the report of the Kosovo Law Institute, unfortunately these are very difficult to find.
On the one hand, there is a lack of tangible results in fighting high level corruption, and on the other hand, the internal processes for selecting court presidents and chief prosecutors at all levels, are unclear and disputable. These developments have made the judiciary fragile and easy to criticize.
The international community, through direct and indirect investments, and through close observation of judicial developments is trying to help the judicial institutions to strengthen, improve their efficiency, professionalism and accountability, and what is most important, to gain public trust and confidence, to be independent not only recording to the constitution and the law, but also in practice.
Independence, improvement and changes in the judiciary should come from judicial stakeholders. This will raise citizens’ confidence in their institutions. Citizens deserve to receive justice from these institutions. These institutions must do their best in order for the citizens to believe in justice.
It is easily attainable, but requires practical will. We need to see concrete actions, where the best speeches translate into actions, and this is achieved when meritocracy is the determining criterion. In a democratic society that aspires to European integration and values – and no doubt Kosovo is part of Europe - nepotism, unprofessionalism and impunity are old relics, but in no way a life style. The UK and Kosovo have a shared interest in a strong judiciary and ensuring that people in charge of the judiciary are worthy, professional and with integrity, and in no way promote those with scandals and public affairs. This would pave the way for investments and will ensure that issues are solved with efficiency and professionalism. As I have said before, we have a common interest. The UK will always be supportive of Kosovo in this regard. However, we demand something – without rule of law in Kosovo even the UK will suffer. But is this happening? I can hardly say it is happening. Rather, recent developments are very disturbing.
I think that Judicial and Prosecutorial Council should pay attention to drafting and adopting secondary legislation, avoiding repeated instances where a regulation is adopted and shortly after amended; or when regulations are amended in the middle of important processes. Also of great importance is the assessment of judges’ and prosecutors’ performance. We all know that this has not taken place since 2011, with the exception of assessment during the initial mandate. Moreover, we have members whose mandate has expired! This indicates a lack of accountability in the justice system but also undermines citizens’ trust in the judicial and prosecutorial system.
We regret that we continue to witness these developments having a negative impact on the image and credibility of the judiciary. We have discussed these issues for years and this should not happen anymore. I repeat that we as an international community are concerned with these developments. Moreover, the findings of KLI’s report show that courts and prosecutor’s offices are still reluctant to be transparent to the media and civil society.
Why is this happening? Why should a prosecutor hesitate to be transparent if he/she has dismissed an indictment or ceased investigations? Moreover, the report documented that over 50% of applications for access to public documents have remained unanswered.
Again the fact that prosecutors dismiss reports without reference to the legal provisions and the deadlines is disturbing. Breach of legal deadlines and procrastination of legal proceedings represents a violation of the constitutional rights of citizens of the Republic of Kosovo to a fair trial within a reasonable time.
We, the internationals, have been presented with the establishment of the electronic database targeting a number of high-profile corruption cases as a success story. Do not think that we do not expect seriousness from the local judges and prosecutors in handling corruption and organised crime cases. We do, because it is in the interest of the UK and Europe that Kosovo is not left a country of corruption and organised crime. However, in general, you must do your job for the sake of citizens, not internationals. Databases and anything else should serve the purpose of delivering results. Regretfully, I have to say that results are scarce.
We have the case of Prishtina University showing that breaches of legal deadlines allowed the prosecution of certain persons for bribery, trading in influence and abuse of power or official authority to exceed the statute of limitation. We have cases where court hearings are not scheduled for months, years, and as I noticed it happens even for decades.
All these challenges that the judiciary faced over the years with no improvement, clearly shows the urgent need for change.
I strongly believe in the people of Kosovo, the people who love this country and give their best for the benefit of this country and who will not be silent and will not continuously tolerate such things. I know very well that some judges and prosecutors share the same belief with me. Today, I’d be very proud and happy if we discussed cases of success and concrete results. I and the country I represent want to see a prosperous Kosovo, where rule of law prevails and where the UK Embassy is overwhelmed with requests from UK companies and firms wishing to invest in Kosovo, and to build new bridges of cooperation between the people of the UK and the people of Kosovo through the economy, culture, sports and science.
I have no doubt that Kosovo has many good people, whom I mentioned in the previous table and who love this country, who want to build their future here, want a better life and want independent, impartial justice based on values and high standards.
I am fully convinced that there are such people within the judicial and prosecutorial system. I think that it is very important to emphasise that it is time for concrete results. Please do not miss the opportunity to become the change, to improve this situation, to fight the evil and to serve as an example, and hero of how to fight and work for this country.
Thank you for your attention.