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Justice Ministry wins increased 2018 budget but chronic delays continue

justiceministerPortugal’s justice minister said that money in the State Budget for 2018 intends to "continue a great cycle" of modernisation of the justice sector, with €79 million allocated for investment.

Justice Minister, Francisca Van Dunem, (pictured) said in parliament that the 2018 State Budget, "reflects the strong investment in modernisation programmes for courts and justice services, in the provision of information and in communication technologies.”

"Training will be boosted for magistrates, registrars, notaries, judicial police officers and prison guards," said Van Dunem at the beginning of the debate on her budget for next year.

According to the minister, the justice budget also will be used to renovate court buildings, prisons and police stations.

Francisca Van Dunem highlighted the volume of next year’s investment in ​​IT and communication technology which has been allocated €35.3 million.

The introduction of the Citius electronic court and case management system failed on launch in 2014 and has limped along ever since - a part of the IT budget of €35 million next year will be used to patch it up and train staff with the public aware that the unblocking of judicial delays by smart IT ‘solutions’ had little positive effect.

"In 2018 we want to consolidate the lines of action we have developed in the two previous years and consolidate a new future for justice," added the politician who did not dwell on the chronic backlog of cases that puts Portugal at the top of the league for the inability of its justice system to serve her 10.3 million inhabitants with anything approaching efficiency.

A damning report that showed Portugal has the highest rate of congestion in civil proceedings in the European Union, was released in October this year, relating to 2015.

The ratio between the number of cases pending at the beginning of a year and the number of cases concluded in that year show that in 2015 the rate in Portugal was 214%, more than twice as slow as the next country on the list, according to data compiled by Pordata Europe - which reports also that the percentage in Poland and Lithuania is less than 20% - (here)

This situation is not thought to have improved and many citizens are put off from seeking justice due to predicted waiting periods measured in years. Similarly, companies making investment decisions may be deterred when expected delays in justice are outlined by advisors.

Van Dunem listed all the positive measures taken by her ministry and revealed that between January and September 2017, 740 trials had been held involving a total of 4,863 people, with 2,356 procedural steps taken at local courts.

This all confirms the “good sense of the minister’s decision to reopen courts that had been closed in 2014,” as part of changes to the ‘judicial map,’ put in place by the then Justice Minister, Paula Teixeira da Cruz whose political career was noted for indecision, blaming others and giving the correct impression that she was unable to cope.

In the current parliamentary debate, the CDS politician, Vânia Dias da Silva, accused the government of lowering the budget allocation for j​ustice, while forcing citizens to pay more to make up the difference.

"This is a clear disinvestment by the State," said the MP, noting that the justice minister did not say a single word about legal costs and is worried that the government is committed to increase the cost of accessing justice and legal services.

Other MPs questioned the reduction in the budget for feeding prisoners and the lack of police inspectors and court officials.

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