Corruption is undermining judicial systems around the world, Transparency International (TI) warned in a new report issued on Thursday (May 24th). As a result, citizens are denied access to justice and the basic human right to a fair and impartial trial, sometimes even to a trial at all.
“Equal treatment before the law is a pillar of democratic societies,” the Berlin-based international corruption watchdog’s chairman, Huguette Labelle, said upon the report’s release. “When courts are corrupted by greed or political expediency, the scales of justice are tipped, and ordinary people suffer. Judicial corruption means the voice of the innocent goes unheard, while the guilty act with impunity.”
In its Global Corruption Report 2007: Corruption in Judicial Systems, TI distinguishes two categories of judicial corruption: political interference by the legislative or executive branch and bribery.
Citing a survey conducted between June and September 2006, the group said that the majority of respondents in 33 of the 62 countries polled described their national judiciary and legal system as corrupt. Nearly 60,000 people participated in the survey, which included all Southeast European (SEE) nations, except for Cyprus and Montenegro. “Of the 8,263 people who had been in contact with the judicial system recently, more than one in ten had paid a bribe,” the report said.
Among the surveyed countries, the situation appears to be worst in Paraguay, where nearly 90% of the respondents have described their judiciary and legal system as corrupt. With less than 10% of Danes perceiving their judiciary as corrupt, Denmark is the “cleanest” of the 62 countries.
In the SEE region, the percentage of people describing their country’s judicial and legal system as corrupt ranges between 54% in Greece and slightly over 80% in Macedonia, which is 4th on the list. About 78% of Croats consider their judiciary to be corrupt, placing the country 7th on the list. Bulgaria is 9th, Turkey is 16th and Albania is 26th. Next comes Romania, then Serbia as 29th and Greece is 31st. Within the region, Kosovo is the only territory where fewer than 50% of respondents described their judiciary and legal system as corrupt.
“What is more specific about Eastern and Central Europe, Central Asia — I mean the former communist countries — is that judicial corruption is much higher [there] than in many other parts of the world, which is an interesting finding of this report,” Miklos Marschall, TI’s director for Europe and Central Asia, said in an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
The report also shows that while 23% of people in North America and 19% of those living in EU or other Western European nations had contact with the judiciary in the past year, the figure for the SEE countries for the period was only 9%. However, 9% of those who had contact with the judiciary reportedly paid a bribe. In North America and in the EU and other Western European nations only 2% and 1%, respectively, paid bribes.
TI offers a number of recommendations to improve judicial independence and combat corruption. These include judicial appointments made by independent panels, making judges’ appointments based on merit, and making salaries in the sector reflect magistrates’ experience and performance. Furthermore, judges should receive limited immunity for actions relating to judicial duties, and allegations against them should be rigorously investigated, including by an independent panel.
To raise awareness about court procedures and offer advice to the victims of corruption, TI has established Advocacy and Legal Advice Centres (ALACs) that offer corruption hotlines. ALACs have been set up in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Romania.