Albania – annual report 2020

Dr Jutta Kemper (left, centre) welcomes the Albanian delegation led by the Deputy Minister of Interior Besfort Lamallari (opposite) during the study trip on “Recovery of Assets” at the Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection
Dr Jutta Kemper (left, centre) welcomes the Albanian delegation led by the Deputy Minister of Interior Besfort Lamallari (opposite) during the study trip on “Recovery of Assets” at the Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection

Strategic Framework 

Legal Policy Starting Point 

The European Council decided to open accession negotiations with Albania in March 2020. At the same time, Albania was urged to initiate further approximation measures prior to the first intergovernmental conference that marks the formal beginning of the accession negotiations. Measures included implementation of electoral law reform in line with the recommendations of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the human rights institution of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). In response to this, the parties in parliament reached an overarching agreement on a reform of electoral law in the middle of the year, facilitated by the EU, the US and the UK. Further changes to the election system followed shortly afterwards, which also required an amendment to the constitution. The parliamentary vote did not wait for agreement in the so-called Political Council, an all-party body that is supposed to agree on changes in electoral law. This procedure was criticised by the EU.

Other preconditions for the start of accession negotiations concern the implementation of the judicial reform, in particular restoring the operability of the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court, which have not had a quorum for years. This is due to the vetting procedure that vets all Albanian judges and the Public Prosecutors concerning their assets, their background and integrity as well as concerning their professional qualifications.

Numerous positions in the judiciary remain vacant as a result. On a positive note, however, enough judges were appointed to the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court over the course of the year to enable one chamber in each body to resume work. But the process of filling vacancies was not without problems, especially at the Constitutional Court.

In addition, Albania has created specialised structures to combat corruption and organised crime by establishing the new agency SPAK (Struktura e Posaçme Anti-Korrupsion/Special Anti-Corruption Structure).

Overall Concept

The COVID-19 pandemic initially had a significant impact on collaboration with Albanian partner institutions. But the process of switching cooperation to digital formats proceeded quickly. In this context, IRZ provided advice in bilateral projects funded by the Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection and the Federal Foreign Office, as well as within the framework of the EU-funded EURALIUS V project. Emphasis is placed on preventing duplicate work in the overall concept and organisation of the projects.

Cooperation with the School of Magistrates, which plays a key role in basic and further training of young legal professionals, is particularly significant for IRZ. Albanian legal professionals received further training, and IRZ and the School of Magistrates jointly developed an e-commentary. The constitutional complaint, which was introduced in Albania in 2016 based on the German model, is a thematic focus of cooperation with the Albanian National Chamber of Advocacy.

During the reporting year, IRZ also provided technical expertise with regard to the provisions of European law as a means of supporting the new authority SPAK and other relevant parties. Encouragingly, cooperation with the Supreme Court resumed after years of standstill.

Focus of Activity in 2020

Constitutional Law, Human Rights and their Enforceability 

  • Online further training on “Use of the constitutional complaint” for the lawyers in the regions of Vlora, Elbasan and Shkodra in cooperation with the Albanian Bar Association

Civil and Commercial Law

  • Online seminar on inheritance law, together with the Federal Chamber of Notaries and the National Chamber of Notaries of Albania
  • Online seminar on the specifics of civil proceedings before the Supreme Court in cooperation with the Supreme Court

Public Law

  • Online seminar on the delineation between civil and administrative court jurisdiction in cooperation with the School of Magistrates
  • Online seminar on the Administrative Procedure Code together with the School of Magistrates

Criminal and Penitentiary Law

  • Study trip to Berlin on the topic of “Asset recovery” in cooperation with the Albanian Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of the Interior, the Public Prosecutor’s Office as well as the Agency for the Administration of Seized and Confiscated Assets
  • Online roundtable discussions on the topic of “Asset recovery” in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of the Interior, the Public Prosecutor’s Office as well as the Agency for the Administration of Seized and Confiscated Assets
  • Preparation of a manual on asset recovery

Basic and Further Training

  • Establishment of an e-commentary in cooperation with the School of Magistrates and EURALIUS V
  • Online seminar “The legal lawyers in public” together with the Albanian Bar Association

Project funded by the European Union 

EU Grant Project: EURALIUS V “Consolidation of the Justice System in Albania” 

Since April 2018, IRZ has been in charge of implementing the EU-funded EURALIUS V project as lead contractor (volume: € 7.5 million, term: 36 months until March 2021, in case of an approval of a non-cost time extension the project will be extended up to December 2021). Including over 30 experts and more than ten institutions, the consortium partners in the project are: Centre for International Legal Cooperation (CILC/Netherlands), Agency for Economic Development (aed/Austria) and Consiglio Superiore della Magistratura (CSM/Italy).

Despite the considerable impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the EURALIUS V project was able to continue its work without interruption, thanks to the immense commitment shown by the entire team.

EURALIUS V concentrates on overall consolidation of the legal framework of the judicial reform developed in the predecessor project EURALIUS IV, with the priorities:

  • Development of a transition strategy to compensate for the personnel effects of ongoing vetting procedures and support in implementing the transition strategy
  • Capacity building measures for the newly established self-governing institutions within the judiciary
  • Strategies for effective reduction in the case backlog at the Supreme Court
  • Support for the Special Public Prosecutor’s Offices and the anti-corruption courts and
  • Concurrent IT measures for the entire judicial sector

Of particular note is the development of a “Transition Matrix”, which provides transition strategies for continued effective organisation of the work of the courts and Public Prosecutor’s Offices until they are back to full staffing levels. This is of great importance given the reduced number of judges and public prosecutors due to the ongoing vetting procedure. The final phase of the project concentrates on assuring the sustainability of implemented measures and on knowledge transfer to the Albanian institutions.

Outlook

Albania will remain an important partner to IRZ in 2021, especially with regard to the accession negotiations and the associated reforms that are necessary. Therefore it is planned to broaden cooperation with the Supreme Court in 2021, in addition to continuing the EURALIUS V project, which may be extended until the end of 2021. Moreover, activities in the area of the asset recovery will be further intensified and cooperation with the School of Magistrates to provide basic and further training to legal professionals will continue. Additional topics will also be added to widen cooperation with the National Chamber of Albanian Bar Association.

The same applies to the work with the National Chamber of Notaries of Albania.

Albania - annual report 2019

During the Steering Committee meeting for the EU project EURALIUS V.  Front centre: EURALIUS V Team Leader Dr Agnes Bernhard, to the right:  Dr Stephen Stork, EU Delegation Albania
During the Steering Committee meeting for the EU project EURALIUS V. Front centre: EURALIUS V Team Leader Dr Agnes Bernhard, to the right: Dr Stephen Stork, EU Delegation Albania

Strategic Framework

Legal Policy Starting Point

Albania has been an official EU candidate country since mid-2014. The EU Commission recommended opening accession negotiations with Albania back in April 2018 to acknowledge the progress that had been made in many areas by then. Nevertheless, it was not possible to start accession negotiations in the reporting year, as not all of the EU Member States agreed to this step. This has been met with great disappointment in Albania, as the country‘s accession (and that of North Macedonia) is a centrepiece in the EU Strategy for the Western Balkans, which essentially envisages closer ties between Albania and the EU as a means of contributing to the ongoing stabilisation and reconciliation of the region. For years, Albania has made strenuous efforts to implement reforms – especially in the judicial field – to bring the country closer to possible EU membership.

Compounding this situation, the government under Prime Minister Edi Rama faced strong domestic pressure in 2019. Student protests in the first half of the year demanded, among other things, more say in the running of universities, halving of tuition fees and significant improvements in the housing situation. The protests were effective, causing the government to give in in some areas.

Moreover, the opposition resigned their parliamentary mandates at the beginning of 2019 in protesting – in their perspective – a corrupt government, which they accused of election rigging and having links to organised crime. The blockade led to violent riots in some places. The opposition also boycotted the local elections in summer. The government, which rules with an absolute parliamentary majority, did not react, and no new parliamentary elections took place.

Albania‘s legal and political situation is further exacerbated by the fact that key institutions such as the Constitutional Court and the High Court are currently not operational. As a result of the vetting procedure with its comprehensive review of judicial personnel, in particular judges and public prosecutors, in regard to their professional qualifications, financial circumstances and personal integrity, many posts in courts are vacant and filled only slowly.

Overall Concept

IRZ has advised Albania since 2000 both in direct bilateral cooperation with institutions such as the Constitutional Court, the High Court and the School of Magistrates, as well as in EU-funded projects. In many cases, bilateral cooperation has made it possible to address or deepen areas that could not be covered by EU-funded projects.

Unfortunately, IRZ was unable to continue its cooperation with its main partners, the High Court and the Constitutional Court, in 2019 due to the situation outlined above. Nonetheless, constitutional law was a priority of IRZ activities in Albania. For example, further training seminars for lawyers were held in the regions of Albania to introduce the constitutional complaint and its application.

At the same time, the cooperation with the School of Magistrates, which in the current situation plays a key role in the basic and further training of young legal professionals, has significantly intensified. For instance, IRZ jointly with the School of Magistrates offered continued training events on a variety of topics.

In addition, as part of a project funded by the Federal Foreign Office, an electronic commentary is being set up, which will provide for lowthreshold and free access to legal commentaries to all Albanian legal practitioners. The commentaries themselves will be written by Albanian authors and reviewed by German experts prior to publication to ensure a uniform quality standard. This project is carried out in cooperation with the EURALIUS V project.

Focus of Activity in 2019

Constitutional Law/Human Rights and their Enforceability

  • Further training for judges and public prosecutors in cooperation with the School of Magistrates on the subject of “Constitutional vs. administrative court jurisdiction“ in Tirana
  • Further training courses for lawyers in cooperation with the Bar on the topic “Application of the constitutional complaint“ in Durres and Korca

Public Law

  • Seminar on administrative law in cooperation with the School of Magistrates in Tirana
  • Seminar on asylum law in cooperation with the School of Magistrates in Tirana

Criminal Law and Penitentiary Law

  • Seminar for lawyers in cooperation with the Bar in Tirana on the topic of the Code of Criminal Procedure
  • Seminar on “Criminal law and ECHR case-law“ in cooperation with the School of Magistrates in Tirana

Basic and Further Training

  • Kick-off event for e-commentary in cooperation with the School of Magistrates in Tirana
  • Training courses for authors on writing e-commentaries in cooperation with the School of Magistrates in Tirana

Project funded by the European Union

EU Grant project: EURALIUS V “Consolidation of the Justice System in Albania“

Since April 2018, IRZ is implementing the EU-funded EURALIUS V project as a lead contractor, a follow-up of the EURALIUS IV project, which was also successfully implemented by IRZ.

EURALIUS V has a total volume of €7.5 million and will run for 36 months until March 2021. The consortium partners are the same as in the predecessor project, so the “Centre for International Legal Cooperation“ (CILC/the Netherlands) and the “Agency for Economic Development“ (aed/Austria). A new partner is the “Consiglio Superiore della Magistratura“ (CSM) from Italy.

Dr Agnes Bernhard from Austria is again the team leader on the ground. While the EURALIUS IV project focused on elaborating the legal basis for the ongoing judicial reform, EURALIUS V is strongly focused on the overall consolidation of the reform measures. The priorities here include:

  • capacity building measures for newly established self-administration institutions of the judiciary,
  • strategies to effectively reduce the substantial case backlog at the High Court,
  • support for the special prosecutors‘ offices and the anti-corruption courts, and
  • accompanying IT measures for the entire judicial sector.

Overall, work on the EURALIUS V project continuously covers more than ten beneficiary institutions: The Parliament, the Ministry of Justice, the High Judicial Council, the High Prosecutorial Council, the Justice Appointment Council, the High Court, the School of Magistrates and the Chambers of Free Legal Professions, to name just a few.

The project is organised in a total of five teams, each of which looks after individual institutions. The teams are led by one or two international experts, with additional support from numerous national colleagues. The teams have the following responsibilities:

  • Team 1: Parliament and Ministry of Justice
  • Team 2: Governance Institutions, the High Judicial Council, the High Prosecutorial Council, the Justice Appointment Council and the Judicial Inspectorate
  • Team 3: Court Organisation, prosecution offices, Free Legal Professions
  • Team 4: IT in the judicial system, with the aim of introducing a standardised case management system
  • Team 5: Basic and continued training for judges, prosecutors and judicial staff

The following exemplarily listed measures constitute priorities for implementing the reform legislation co-developed within the framework of the predecessor project EURALIUS IV:

  • support in the preparation of regulations, directives, decrees, manuals and expert opinions on legal issues,
  • commentaries on draft legislation,
  • development of IT programs,
  • support in the maintenance of IT systems,
  • preparation of tender documents for a new IT case management system,
  • restructuring of the School of Magistrates,
  • revision of the curricula, among many other things.

A pleasing aspect is that IRZ is also able to support the School of Magistrates within the framework of its bilateral work through the provision of advisory services that are not contractually covered by EURALIUS V.

The EURALIUS V project reached a number of its objectives in 2019. On one hand, the remaining reform-laws co-developed under the predecessor project EURALIUS IV were adopted. In addition, the Justice Appointment Council and the Special Prosecutor‘s Office for Anti-Corruption were established. Additionally, progress was made in the appointment of constitutional judges.

For the upcoming final year of the project, the priorities include supporting the Constitutional Court and High Court in restoring their functionality. Moreover, the latter institution will receive support in the development and implementation of a strategy to effectively reduce the considerable backlog of cases. Another priority will be on advising the special public prosecutors‘ offices and the anti-corruption courts. In view of the ongoing vetting procedures resulting in the reduction of the number of judges and prosecutors, the above measures constitute a challenge for the entire Albanian judicial system.

Outlook

IRZ will continue bilateral cooperation with the Constitutional Court and the High Court in 2020, as soon as they become operational. IRZ also intends to significantly expand its activities with the School of Magistrates over the coming year. Among other things, there are plans to further establish an e-commentary that will provide all members of the legal professions with free access to current case law and commentaries on laws. In addition, asset recovery will be a priority of advisory measures, and initial contacts have already been established with the relevant institutions in Albania.

Moreover, IRZ will remain highly committed in Albania within the framework of the EURALIUS V project.

 

Albania - annual report 2018

Lecture by the lawyer Stefan von Raumer (on the right in the photo) during the seminar for lawyers on constitutional complaints
Lecture by the lawyer Stefan von Raumer (on the right in the photo) during the seminar for lawyers on constitutional complaints

Strategic Framework

Legal Policy Starting Point

In recognition of the progress made in many areas, the EU Commission issued a recommendation in April 2018 that accession negotiations are to start with Albania, which has been an official accession candidate country since mid-2014. The EU Member States are currently consulting on whether and when accession negotiations with Albania should commence. The possible accession of Albania is part of the EU Western Balkans Strategy. For instance, the Sofia Declaration issued on the occasion of the EU Western Balkans Summit emphasises that greater convergence between the region and the EU, associated with a prospect for accession, would contribute to the ongoing stabilisation and reconciliation of the region, as well as stimulate a continued economic upswing. In recent years, Albania in particular has made consistent efforts to implement reforms that bring the country closer to a possible EU membership.

In Albania, the bilateral cooperation as well as in the framework of the EU funded projects during the reporting year was dominated by the vetting procedure, which involves thorough vetting of the judicial personnel, in particular the judges and public prosecutors, in regard to their professional competence, their financial assets and their personal integrity. The vetting began in 2018 following a certain delay, leading to the dismissal of some judges at the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court. Moreover, a number of judges had already resigned from office before the vetting procedure started. Appointments to these judicial vacancies have not yet been made, which effectively prevents the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court from operating.

A focus has now been placed on training new judges in order to fill the vacancies in the judiciary, which result from the ongoing vetting procedure. The School of Magistrates, which is responsible for training young legal professionals, is currently unable to offer sufficient educational capacities, which ultimately obstructs progress in the ongoing judicial reform. Reform processes are now being initiated at the School of Magistrates to enable the institution to accommodate greater numbers of students. These reforms and the selection of young legal professionals have repeatedly been the subject of controversy during the reporting year.

Overall Concept

The IRZ has been advising Albania on its judicial reform and its consolidation of the rule of law since 2000 and has, in this regard, conducted events in the fields of the organisation of the judiciary, legislation as well as basic and further training for lawyers. This takes place both in direct cooperation with institutions such as the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court and the School of Magistrates, as well as within the framework of EU-funded projects. Specific areas that could not be covered by the EU projects were often picked up or developed further by means of IRZ`s bilateral cooperation.

Against the above-mentioned backdrop, it was not possible to implement any direct bilateral measures with the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court in 2018. Nevertheless, the IRZ was able to continue its work on the topic of constitutional complaints, which was already a priority of the cooperation last year with other partners such as the Albanian Bar Association. Co-authored by representatives on the German and Albanian side, the Constitutional Complaints Handbook was distributed to all courts, universities and interested practitioners. In the meantime, a second edition has been issued. The aim is to encourage the use of constitutional complaints as an instrument for both the judiciary and the legal profession and to conduct further training events on relevant topics.

The dismissal of judges has also produced a situation in which new judicial personnel must be trained as quickly as possible. Hence, the School of Magistrates, which is responsible for the training, must significantly increase its capacities and improve its infrastructure. In this regard, the IRZ has managed to build on and strengthen its long-standing cooperation with the School of Magistrates bilaterally as well as in the framework of the EU funded projects EURALIUS IV and V. Joint seminars prioritised issues of European law with a view to the EU Western Balkans Strategy.

The IRZ involvement in Albania is extremely intense due to the bilateral projects and the EURALIUS V project and will certainly remain at this high level during the next years due to the EU Western Balkans Strategy.

Foci of Activity in 2018

Constitutional Law / Human Rights and their Enforceability

  • Two further training courses for lawyers in cooperation with the Albanian Bar Association in Tirana on constitutional complaints

Civil and Commercial Law

  • Seminar “EU legislation on consumer rights“ for judges and public prosecutors in cooperation with the School of Magistrates in Tirana
  • Seminar on the “Rome II Regulation (the law applicable to noncontractual obligations)“ in cooperation with the School of Magistrates in Tirana

Public Law

  • Seminar “Basic principles of European law and rulings of the ECJ“ for judges and public prosecutors in cooperation with the School of Magistrates in Tirana

Basic and Further Training

  • Seminar on the assessment of evidence in court proceedings for Albanian judges and public prosecutors in cooperation with the School of Magistrates in Albania
  • Attendance by two lawyers of the “IRZ Summer School on German Law“ in Bonn
  • Study trip to Trier and Mainz by the School of Magistrates in Albania on “Basic and further training for judges, establishing an academy, structure of degree programmes in law in Germany, e-commentary“

Projects funded by the European Union

EU Grant: EURALIUS V “Consolidation of the Justice System in Albania“

The IRZ was delighted to be awarded the EU-funded EURALIUS V project as lead contractor. The project continues the EURALIUS IV project, which the IRZ as lead contractor has successfully implemented in Albania since autumn 2014.

EURALIUS V has a total volume of €7.5 million and will run for 36 months, beginning on 1 April 2018. The consortium partners are the same as in the predecessor project: so the “Centre for International Legal Cooperation“ (CILC/the Netherlands) and the “Agency for Economic Development“ (aed/Austria). A new partner is the “Consiglio Superiore della Magistratura“ (CSM/ Italy).

Since 1 April 2018, a team of around 35 experts has successively started work on the project at a number of institutions in Tirana. The team consists of eight international and ten local long-term experts, ten admin staff members and additional mid-term experts. Dr Agnes Bernhard from Austria is again the Team Leader on the ground.

The project‘s kick-off meeting on 13 June 2018 in the “Europa House“ of the EU Delegation in Tirana was attended by Christian Lange, Member of the Bundestag and Parliamentary State Secretary at the German Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection.

While the EURALIUS IV project focused on drafting the legal basis required for the ongoing justice reform, EURALIUS V will strongly focus on the overall consolidation of the reform measures. Because of the general social conditions, it has not been possible so far to adhere to the original schedule for establishing the judicial administration institutions that are planned within the framework of the constitutional amendments. Therefore, the launch of the EURALIUS V project is taking place during an extremely sensitive phase. This is because the establishment of new institutions and the implementation of planned reforms will depend significantly on the outcome of the concurrently ongoing vetting procedures. A decision will be reached on the start of EU accession negotiations in summer 2019, which injects even greater urgency into the implementation of the reforms.

Outlook

If possible, the IRZ will continue its bilateral cooperation with the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court in 2019, as soon as the institutions are operational.

The IRZ also intends to significantly expand its activities with the School of Magistrates over the coming year. There are plans to establish an e-commentary that will provide all members of the legal profession with free access to current case-law and law commentaries. Moreover, the IRZ will remain highly committed in Albania within the framework of the EURALIUS V project. EURALIUS V focuses on capacity building measures for the new but also for the existing judicial institutions.