Simple Fixes Make Big Impact in Albania’s Courtrooms

Speeches Shim

Chief Judge Enkeledi Hajro of the Tirana District Court reviews her documents.
Chief Judge Enkeledi Hajro of the Tirana District Court in her office
Hung Vo, USAID
Audio recording and collaboration combat judicial corruption
“Thanks to USAID, the public can feel that justice is done.”

August 2018 — An effective and transparent judicial system is important to any functioning democracy. In Albania, however, the courts have been compromised by corruption and mismanagement.

Judges earn a salary of under 10,000 euros ($11,700) annually, but Albania’s High Inspectorate of Declaration and Audit of Assets and Conflicts of Interest (HIDAACI) found that one in three judges declared assets over 250,000 euros ($293,000). Some judges disclosed millions in assets.

Bribes have not been uncommon in Albania’s courtrooms. It has been normal practice for trials to be conducted behind closed doors and in private offices. Judges have frequently delayed or failed to disclose their hearing decisions and explain how they reached their conclusions.

To combat corruption, in 2003, USAID helped establish HIDAACI to investigate judges and other high-ranking officials. HIDAACI is currently a central player in Albania’s justice reform.

Another important but easily overlooked intervention to improve trust and confidence in the judiciary has been the installation of digital audio recording technology in courtrooms. Recording audio in courtrooms can improve transparency and accountability, increase efficiency, and curb corruption. It can also make justice more equitable and encourage better participant and judicial behavior when it acts as a monitoring mechanism. The public is allowed to attend courtroom hearings as well as to access the recordings. 

Since 2012, USAID has equipped all 38 courts in Albania — a total of 160 courtrooms — with audio recording technology.

After the recording devices were installed, USAID provided hands-on training to every judge, court secretary, court chancellor and information technology specialist in Albania, along with general training for attorneys and prosecutors. The technology was also installed at the School of Magistrates and the Faculty of Law at the University of Tirana to enable future legal professionals to champion this technology.

Chief judges across all courts now report monthly to the High Council of Justice regarding the use of digital audio recording in their courtrooms. Chief Inspector Marsida Xhaferllari explains, “If we find judges with a low percentage of usage, we will identify the causes. Although the Inspectorate acknowledges the lack of courtrooms, we will not tolerate any non-usage of this technology.”

Despite the insufficient number of courtrooms, Chief Judge Enkeledi Hajro of the Tirana District Court, the largest court in Albania, strives to record as many trials as possible. However, a problem had to be addressed. Nearly 50 percent of hearings at the Tirana District Court were postponed because of a flawed notification system, where judicial notices were not being sent to the correct defendants and witnesses.

To address delays in the court system, USAID brought together the Tirana District Court and the General State Police Directorate to collaborate. Despite the overlap in their work, this was the first time leaders from these two agencies had met. This newly formed partnership allowed the court access to information in the electronic border management system, which enabled the court to know whether a defendant or witness was inside or outside the country.

Likewise, a partnership with the Directorate of the Civil Registry gave the court access to a broader address network and allowed judicial notices to be sent to the right defendants and witnesses, resulting in a decrease in postponements.

USAID is using cost-effective tools such as audio recording technology and interagency collaboration to strengthen Albania’s court system and address complex issues such as corruption and access to justice. Because of these two interventions, judges can better perform their duties.

“Thanks to USAID, the public can feel that justice is done,” says Hajro.

USAID’s five-year Justice for All Project, which began in 2016, partners with Albanian institutions to develop comprehensive judicial standards for court efficiency, transparency, accessibility and accountability. Justice reform is a top priority for Albania in its aspiration to join the European Union.


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