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22/06/2020   The National Audit Office of Lithuania: improving the conditions in the judicial system can improve the quality and speed of proceedings

The improvement of the conditions in the judicial system would ensure the maximum quality and the shortest possible length of proceedings, as demonstrated by the results of the audit “Judicial System” carried out by the National Audit Office of Lithuania (NAOL).

“The courts act independently in the administration of justice, therefore the objective of our audit was not to examine the validity of the decisions taken, but to assess whether the courts have created the right conditions for its effective enforcement. The expectation of each party involved in the proceedings and therefore of society as a whole is that the proceedings would be administered properly and as fast as possible,“ says Sigita Gorovniova, Chief Advisor of the Governance Audit Department of the NAOL.
 
In Lithuania, there are 22 courts of general jurisdiction and special jurisdiction. The judicial system has 3,439 workers, 750 of whom are judges. At the end of 2019, there was a shortage of 37 judges and 206 members of the judge team.

According to the audit, Lithuania is ranked 8th among EU countries according to the number of judges per 100,00 inhabitants (27 judges). The number of civil cases received is also high: in the EU, we are the second with the highest number of cases per 100 inhabitants (4 cases). In 2019, 214,000 cases were received, of which around 75% are civil cases. One of the reasons for the high number of cases received is that within 12 years there was no agreement on what functions should be attributed only to the court as the sole administration of justice. If at least two functions that are not specific to court were transferred to other institutions (for the uncontested divorce and court permits for transactions of immovable property owned by the family if the spouses (applicants) have minor children), the number of civil cases they receive would decrease by about 13% (20,000 cases).

In terms of the average length of civil proceedings, Lithuania was ranked first in the EU as the state dealing with them at the fastest pace. The average duration of proceedings in appeal procedure in the district courts of Lithuania is 95 days. However, there are complex cases where the length of proceedings greatly differs from the average: at the end of 2019, there were 4,003 cases pending before first instance courts for more than a year, of which 247 complex civil cases have been protracted for more than 5 years.

International practice shows that one of the ways for courts to function effectively is the specialisation of judges. The results of this audit show that 30% of judges working in district courts do not specialise in proceedings: the same judge must hear civil, criminal, and administrative cases. The possibility of specialisation is limited by the fact that 57% of district court chambers have 5 and fewer judges each. The introduction of a specialisation would not ensure that the categories of cases in question are not assigned to a pre-known judge. The fact that the specialisation works is also illustrated by the following facts: the proportion of civil cases annulled and returned to the first instance in courts with no specialisation between 2018 and 2019 was around 15.5% higher compared to the courts where specialisation was established.

During the proceedings, it is important to protect the interests of the most vulnerable parties of the proceedings and to ensure their emotional security. This is usually implemented by means of special premises for victims and witnesses. The audit results show that 67 % of district court chambers and 3 (out of 5) regional courts do not have premises for witnesses and victims, while 24 % of the district courts and 2 (out of 5) regional courts do not have premises for interviews with minors. The lack of such premises makes it more difficult for the courts to ensure adequate protection for the above-mentioned parties of proceedings.

The NAOL recommends creating appropriate conditions for the administration of justice and ensuring the consistent improvement of the judicial system. This would be achieved by the planned long-term priorities and objectives for the improvement of the judicial system, abandonment of functions which are not specific to courts, and adequate conditions for specialisation of judges. Since 2020, the NAOL has associated the implementation of the public audit recommendations with the assessment of the changes by indicators; therefore, when already providing interim audit results, audited entities were invited to agree on the most appropriate indicators for the assessment of changes, their target values and deadlines. In addition to the measures taken to implement the recommendations, the audit report includes indicators to assess the situation, whether the measures implemented have achieved the intended result, and produced the expected impact.

 

Responsible for the information Communication Division
Last updated on 17 July 2020

National Audit Office of Lithuania

Pamėnkalnio St 27, LT-01113 Vilnius, Phone: + 370 5 266 6793, + 370 5 266 6752, Email: nao@vkontrole.lt.