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Lithuanian government backs proposal on members of public serving as judges

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Trakų rajono apylinkės teismo nuotr. / Trakų teismas
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Lithuania's government backed a proposal to have representatives of the public – public judges – involved in some categories of trials.

Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius and the Ministry of Justice, which submitted the proposal, say the reform will help build trust in courts.

"Following consultations, the Cabinet backed the Ministry of Justice's proposal to involve representatives of the public in judicial work who would take part in hearings of some cases and would advise courts on what decision to make," the Lithuanian government said in a statement on Monday.

The draft still needs formal approval by the government, and the Parliament (Seimas) will have the final say.

"The institution of public judges is one of the ways to bring more transparency to the operations of courts, make them more open to the society and boost public confidence in the administration executing justice," the ministry said in an explanatory note.

According to the draft, Lithuanian citizens aged between 21 and 65 with at least secondary education and no criminal record could be called to serve as public judges.

The ministry said that public judges should, upon request of defense lawyers, be present in trials of underage defendants or when they face life in prison, as well as all corruption trials.

In civil trials, public judges would be included in cases on defense of honor and dignity, if requested by either party. Under the bill, public judges would be involved in all civil and administrative cases on public interest and administrative cases on decisions of the Chief Official Ethics Commission.

Meanwhile chairman of the Judicial Council Gintaras Kryževičius proposed going even further and granting public representatives the right to make decisions and not just serve as advisors.

Public judges will be reimbursed for their travel and accommodation costs and be paid a salary for their duties. If approved, the scheme of the new institution should cost about 5.2 million litas (EUR 1.5 m) per year.

Currently judges of regional courts earn 31 litas per hour. The Ministry of Finance believes the reimbursement for public judges would be too costly and suggests cutting it.

Kubilius says public distrust in courts costs even more.

"I cannot say whether the institution of public judges will be expensive. We still have to discuss this. But one should remember that  it costs Lithuania a great deal not having an institution that guarantees public involvement in judicial work and allows the public to be sure that justice in Lithuania is executed in the most effective way," the Lithuanian prime minister told journalists following the Cabinet meeting.

Meanwhile Minister of Justice Remigijus Šimašius added that the reform would allow the public to better understand functioning of courts would be useful for courts themselves.

"I hope the current Seimas will manage to approve this draft," the minister told journalists, adding that public judges could be introduced as early as next year.

"The project might be meaningful only if it really helped the courts work better. This is how I see this project. There are certain categories of cases when participation of people from outside may help judges better understand the situation adopt better decisions," the minister said.

Meanwhile critics say the inclusion of public judges would prolong judicial proceedings even more.

BNS
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