June 15 last saw the announcement of the guidelines for judicial reform, which have as their basis the principle of access to justice of the citizens. However, apart from this fundamental constitutional principle, a principle which is as or even more important has been overlooked: that of the decision being handed down in a timely fashion.

There is no doubt that the change to the Portuguese judicial system is absolutely necessary and it is truly an attack on the implementation of justice for a judge to have to deal with areas as diverse as labour law, family law and the law of minors, insolvency and property law. In other words, it is important that justice becomes more specialised.

Yet, as has been seen in other cases, specialisation is not synonymous with celerity. Let us recall here that the pilot judicial districts of the (then) new judicial system, namely with regard to the Judicial District of Greater Lisbon – Northwest, did not bring about the desired effects and, in some (many) cases, caused even greater “judicial bottlenecks”:

Consequently, these measures must always go hand-in-hand with others that will allow the proceedings to be made truly speedier, which may ultimately come about by reducing the procedural guarantees of the parties in the proceedings.

However, such a reduction must always be accompanied by the stipulation of time limits for the remaining judicial parties, be they judges, district attorneys or even court clerks, which necessarily means that these must be afforded the conditions necessary for the excess number of proceedings to cease to be an “excuse” (and very often a valid one) for the impossibility of dealing with them in a timely manner.

In other words, what is more important than changing the system is to bring about a change in the mindset of all the judicial agents and ensure that they all have the necessary (and speedy) resources for a smooth (and rapid) application of justice.

And what is more important than changing the system is to ensure that the distance from a court will not be an obstacle to the application of justice, that those who have to resort to the courts to enforce their rights do not stop before they even start because they do not have the resources to travel or the financial resources to meet this increase in costs, because it is only in this way that justice will truly be done.

Rui Ferreira