A special UN rapporteur specialising in the Independence of Judges and Lawyers has started looking into Portugal's judges and the snail like pace of the justice system.
Gabriela Knaul was at the Attorney General's Office in Lisbon today starting a series of meetings with representatives of Portugal’s government, legislature and judiciary.
Knaul’s visit will end on February 3rd after she has met the ombudsman, judges and lawyers to enable her to report on the Portuguese judicial system to the Human Rights Council this June.
The work will focus on the ‘achievements and challenges in the country to ensure the independence of the judiciary, the free exercise of the legal profession, and access to justice for all,’ according to a statement from Gabriela Knaul who is in Portugal at the invitation of the Portuguese Ministry of Justice.
According to Knaul, her report will focus on key issues surrounding the administration of justice, such as ‘undue delay, equal access to justice and legal aid, particularly for the most vulnerable members of the population, such as children, immigrants, Roma and women victims of domestic violence.’
Knaul became a UN Special Rapporteur in August 2009 and formerly was a judge in Brazil specialising in criminal justice and the administration of judicial systems. She holds a Master’s Degree in Public and Private Law from São Paulo State University and an MBA in Judiciary Management from the Getulio Vargas Foundation in Rio de Janeiro.
The disastrous delay in introducing Portugal’s much heralded ‘new judicial map’ planned to start last September 1st will not shed a good light on the speed of justice section of Knaul’s report, nor will counter-intuitive cases such as that of Serena Wylde, sued by her lawyer whose performance she complained about to Portugal’s Ordem de Advogados.
Cases take years to be heard in Portugal and long delays are so common as to be the norm.
Court staff unions claim that there are too few trained personnel to administer the new computerised case management system and clearly the Justice Minister failed in her role last summer yet remains in post.
Cases are purposefully delayed until out of time, witnesses are called on the wrong days and many claimants are put off seeking legal redress as the justice system is held in such low regard by so many that it can rightly be said to reserved for the state, the rich and the influential.
Whether the June report uncoveres the shocking truth behind the veneer that currently purports to be a justice system, or simply reports on what the justice wants to be but fails, remains to be seen.