Albania is preparing to undergo a holistic constitutional reform which will include the following areas: European integration, functioning of the Constitutional Court, organisation of the judiciary and of the prosecution service. However, the proposed amendments are oriented by the immediate need to ensure the integrity of the Albanian judges. In this regard, one of the most crucial elements will be the vetting process, which has been in the center of attention during the last days as the only point in which the political community has not been able to reach an agreement.
What is the vetting process?
In brief, a vetting process means that an ad hoc body will inquire into and determine the suitability of serving judges and magistrates to continue serving in the judiciary. Truth being said, there is very limited research and literature globally on vetting. While the normative principles are clear and are rooted in human rights instruments and frameworks, according to UNDP, further academic conceptualisation of the principle as well as the exploration of different strategic contexts that enable a decision to vet officials has been limited.
This may be because vetting usually takes place in the context of post-conflict. Earliest experiences of vetting can be found in East Germany for example. Albania is not a post-conflict country, on the contrary, Albania is an EU candidate country, but lack of trust in the judicial system and prosecution system is highly evident.
Controlling the professionalism of judges and prosecutors, their incomes, properties, personal life and that of their close family members (a.k.a the vetting process) is a key tool of the drastic reform package that aims at fighting their lack of professionalism and corruption which is not percieved as such only from an international point of view, but from every citizien of the country.
Who shall be in charge of conducting the vetting process?
According to the Venice Commission in its Interim Opinion on the Draft of Constitutional Amendments, there exists the question whether the wide consensus on the existence of corruption, creates a sufficient basis for subjecting all the sitting judges (including the honest ones) to re-evaluation, irrespective of the specific circumstances of each individual judge. Additionally, there is a high risk of creating sufficient ground for the capture of the judiciary by the political force which controls the process.
Given the extraordinary nature of such process, the vetting must have a wide political and public support within the country. While there is no doubt on the support of the public, a lot of questions surround the political community, namely the political leaders. So far, they have not been capable of reaching an agreement on the fact that who shall control the vetting process with only two days left until the voting day. There is more than just one proposal on the table and recently the debate has been around the role of the international observers, whether they shall have purely procedural powers or whether they may exercise decision making powers as well, this being accompanied by sovereignty concerns.
While there is more than one model that could be implemented, as long as it would fit in the country's context, it seems that the final decision will depend on the consensus reached by the political parties in the very last hours before the July 21st.