So, equal justice under the law… but does this hold true for everyone that has to deal with the justice institutions in Albania?
Sometimes, it can happen that someone wanders in Tirana holding a gun, and even threatens or exercises physical violence against the police forces at the moment of arrest, but at the end, the court sets that person free, as if nothing happened. Meanwhile, someone else might serve many years in prison, for being caught in illegal possession of a weapon, even though he/she made no resistance to the police when arrested.
A judge in Tirana District Court has given different decisions for the same type of crime. Among these, it is worth mentioning the case of Arkimend Lushaj, an Albanian singer, known to the public by his art nickname, “Stress”. The police have classified him as a very problematic person. Stress, who has been previously investigated and convicted by the Serious Crimes Court on racketeering charges, was arrested in possession of a gun, and as if this were not enough, he even reacted to the police forces with violence during his arrest.
The young man was charged for committing the criminal offense of illegal possession of military weapons, which is provided by Article 278/2 of the Criminal Code. For this crime, the prosecutor asked the court to rule for a two-year conviction in prison against the 26-year-old, but at the end of the adjudication process, he was sentenced to just a fine of ALL 400 thousand. Meanwhile, another case adjudicated by Judge Ibrahim Hoxha, who ruled also for the case of singer Stress, was that of a 19-year-old from Kosovo.
In this case though, the judge has been much more severe. Gani Sadiku, resident in the city of Gjakova, was arrested during a search by the police in Tirana, because he was found in possession of a gun. During the police interrogation, Sadiku said he had no conflicts, but kept the weapon only to remind him about the Kosovo war. For this criminal offense, Sadiku was sentenced to two years in jail, while the prosecutor of the case had initially asked for three.
Lawyers say it is easy to notice that Albanian courts apply double standards in the decisions they give on some of the cases. The head of the Association of Lawyers against Corruption, Mr. Ndue Pjetra, says the association has gone through and analyzed the decisions given by Tirana District Court, and has found that some of these decisions contradict each other.
“The anti-corruption lawyers Association, founded recently in August of this year, has taken under review so far 2500 court decisions of judges in Tirana, given by the Court of First Instance, of both Penal and Civil cases. We have found some decisions of the same judge that has allocated decisions which contradict each other. In this case, the judge has given reasons to be against himself”.
On the other hand, the Chair of the Union of Albanian Judges, Mr. Ervin Metalla, states there cannot be equal sentences, even on cases that at first glance, seem to be similar, because sentences reflect individual case characteristics.
Some of the citizens, who have cases in court, say there is no fair judgment, and that the reason behind that is of course, corruption.
“I have a trial 12 years long with documents, and none of them has my signature, and when it comes to the end the trial still is ongoing which shows that there is. The papers which I have are contradicting with each other, however, that is all I will say and I will make it a problem”.
“The justice is corrupted, we have had a lot of problems”.
“They give the right decisions but also they are mistaken many times. There is money, acquaintances, and friends involved. They do not ask for money, but when your issue is prolonged and the problem is not resolved in time, this is an indirect request”.
Lawyer Ndue Pjetra shares the same opinion with that of the citizens. He adds that certainly the reason behind this phenomenon is bribery.
“If a judge gives a decision and contradicts himself, then contradicts himself because of bribe, because the person cannot be contradicting in his decisions without being corrupted. It is not argued, that one person contradicts himself, only because of another interest that money is received”.
While not denying the fact that in some cases, there can be room for doubt when it comes to the judges’ decisions, Metalla added that all these decisions should be considered and reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
“We shall not pretend to have the same convictions, for cases which at a first glance look similar, such as to the fable of illegal possession of weapons or theft. The circumstances differ such as, the author’s personal circumstances, the specific circumstances of the offense and therefore the court has discretion to evaluate on legal grounds the dangerousness of the offender, the alleviating or aggravating circumstances, degree of culpability and gives a certain sentence on each case”.
If you ask Albanian citizens regarding their trust on the Albanian justice and courts’ decisions, this is what they will say:
“There is no fair judgment. We are at war with the judges”.
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