Chief Justice Zaganjori, Chief Justice Dedja, distinguished judges,
Fifteen years ago an American judge from California visited China. During a lunch with judges, a young, Chinese judge asked her American counterpart, “What do you do when a politician tries to tell you how to rule, or someone offers you a bribe?” The American judge told her, “I don’t know.” He went on to explain that in his two decades on the judicial bench, he had never been offered a bribe nor been told by a politician how to rule on a case. Not because there aren’t some corrupt officials and judges in the United States, but because the risks of being exposed and the consequences of corruption are so high that few are willing to take that risk. When American judges are caught, they are put in jail for a very long time.
In terms of Albania, I am aware that I am not popular among some judges here. That is understandable as I have said some brutally honest things about your profession. So, today allow me to speak differently to two very different groups of judges – corrupt judges and honest judges.
First, to the corrupt judges: I am guessing that most of you would not identify yourselves as corrupt judges. Let me say this in Albanian to be clear. My test for corruption is a simple one: If you have ever taken money or favors in exchange for a court decision, you are a corrupt judge. Even if you have only done this once, you have broken the law and are not fit to serve as a judge. One other simple criterion, if you look down now at your wrist and you have a watch that costs more than my car, you are probably a corrupt judge. I encourage you to leave this profession immediately. You may also be put in jail soon.
Second, to the honest judges: Have faith, change is coming.
I believe that the majority of judges and prosecutors in this country are honest, hard-working professionals who want to be proud of their profession.
I know that it’s difficult to be an honest judge. You don’t work for much money, and there are pressures from every direction to make important decisions for all the wrong reasons.
Honest judges, like you, deserve to work in a system that rewards integrity. You deserve to be promoted based on merit and experience. And you should become the new symbol of the system, in place of the image today of corrupt judges wearing Cartier watches.
Honest judges also know that changing the justice system will not be easy. Major, thoughtful reforms are necessary to reduce corruption, make the system more independent and more accountable.
Now is the time for honest judges and prosecutors to speak out in favor of the concept of judicial reform and against the corrupt politicians and incompetent judges who stand in the way of change.
You may agree or disagree with the current judicial reform proposal. That is normal in any democracy. Please know that the United States and the European Union have been active drafters of every part of the reform and we endorse fully the current package of reforms. We also know that after the 19 roundtables and the input this month from the Venice Commission, this reform proposal will be changed to ensure that it reflects the best ideas of society and international standards.
In closing, let me ask you a question: “What do you do when a politician tries to tell you how to decide, or when someone offers you a bribe?” I look forward to the day in Albania when the answer could be “I don’t know. It never happened to me.”