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Greece The Judiciary
Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
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    The current legal system of Greece is based on a combination of codified Roman civil law and French and German models, all of which in turn owe much to classical Greek precedents. Greek philosophy in general and the Greek-based tenets of rationalism and natural law in particular contributed significantly to the evolution of Roman law. Later, the eastern, or Greek, part of the Roman Empire played an important role in preserving Roman law after the collapse of the empire in the west in A.D. 476.

    Justice is administered by an independent judiciary, which is divided into civil, criminal, and administrative courts. Judges enjoy personal immunity, and they are subject only to the constitution and the law in discharging their constitutional responsibilities. Judges and other judicial personnel are appointed, promoted, and transferred formally by presidential decree, based on the prior decisions of a self-policing Judicial Council. Lower-level judges, including those in the courts of appeal, serve until sixty-five years of age, and those in the highest courts serve until seventy-five years of age. In each case, criminal conviction, a grave breach of discipline, disability, or professional inadequacy are grounds for dismissal.

    The Judicial Council comprises the presidents of the three highest courts of the land: the Supreme Court for civil and criminal justice, the Council of State for administrative cases, and the Comptrollers' Council for fiscal matters. Other members of the Judicial Council are chosen by lot from among those judges or councillors who have served in the high courts for a minimum of two years.

    The lowest courts in the civil and criminal court structure are the justice of the peace courts and the magistrates' (or police) courts, which are responsible for minor civil and criminal cases. Above this level are the courts of first instance, which handle the bulk of civil and criminal litigations. More serious cases are tried before juries. Juvenile and commercial cases also may be tried by the courts of first instance. Twelve courts of appeal hear appeals from the courts of first instance. In exceptional cases, such as those involving major crimes, the appellate courts may function as courts of original jurisdiction. The Supreme Court hears appeals from the courts of appeal on questions of law. All court sessions are public unless a court decides that publicity would prejudice public morality or would endanger the safety of litigants or witnesses. Felonies and crimes against the state are decided by mixed juries that combine the functions of judge and jurors. Administrative cases are initially adjudicated by special courts, such as labor arbitration courts, social security courts, and tax courts of first instance. There are also tax appeals courts.

    State finances, which also fall under the administration of the judiciary, are overseen by the Comptrollers' Council. The comptrollers audit the expenditures of central and local government agencies as well as public corporations, and they present an annual financial report to the Assembly. The comptrollers also rule on public pension disputes and try cases involving the liability of civil and military officials alleged to have caused financial loss to the state by fraud or negligence.

    At the pinnacle of the judicial system is the Special Supreme Tribunal, comprising the presidents of the Supreme Court, the Council of State, and the Comptrollers' Council; four councillors of the Council of State; four members of the Supreme Court chosen by lot every two years; and, in some cases, two law professors also chosen by lot. The tribunal hears cases involving parliamentary election disputes, the results of public referenda, and jurisdictional disputes between courts and government agencies. The ultimate authority for judicial review, the Special Supreme Tribunal, also interprets and rules on the constitutional validity of laws in cases where the Council of State, the Supreme Court, or the Comptrollers' Council have rendered conflicting judgments. The ruling of the tribunal is irrevocable. Constitutional interpretation in all other cases is a matter for the legislature, not the judiciary.

    Under this arrangement, the relative infrequency of conflicting interpretations on matters of constitutionality is because of the traditional self-restraint of the judiciary as a whole. Only in recent years has the Supreme Court been activist as it has ruled on a considerable body of new legislation regulating environmental and city planning practices. Beginning in 1982, the Greek judiciary sometimes was accused of corruption and political bias. Although the truth of such accusations was unclear, the PASOK administrations of the 1980s proclaimed their intention of reforming the judicial system in order to eliminate corruption. However, few real changes resulted from that resolution.

    In May 1994, a new law passed under PASOK sponsorship caused considerable controversy. The law, which introduced a new system of internal review and control within the judiciary, has met with strenuous opposition from the Supreme Court president and justices. Opponents denounced the government's tactics as interventionist, unconstitutional, and partisan. Among others, the minister of justice was accused by judges of promoting the new law to gain future political influence over the judiciary. After initial opposition, however, in the second half of 1994 dissenting judges began softening their previous position toward the new law, and full compliance was expected. Traditionally, local government has been popularly viewed as the exclusive domain of the wealthy elite; the concept of popular involvement in local affairs was remote at best and failed to take any firm root in Greek governance. In 1982 the PASOK government, which had promised to foster administrative and economic independence at the local level, enacted a bill called Exercise of Government Policy and Establishment of Popular Representation in the Provinces. This legal framework was intended to transfer from the central government to province and local bodies the authority to make decisions on matters pertaining to provinces, municipalities, and communes.

    PASOK's early initiatives on decentralization had lost momentum by the mid-1980s, however. The ND administration that succeeded the PASOK government in 1989 made no significant attempt to relax the hold of the central government on local affairs. Upon returning to power in 1993, PASOK renewed the promise of decentralization. The local elections of October 1994 included for the first time the popular election of province governors, who previously had been appointed in Athens. The democratic election of these officials did not guarantee the degree of authority or autonomy they would enjoy.

    The 1994 local elections were seen as an especially important barometer of national party vigor at a time when the strength of the opposition ND and the ruling PASOK was approximately equal and a national election was possible within six months. ND candidates were elected mayor in Athens and Thessaloniki, and the PASOK mayor of Piraeus was reelected by a slim margin. Overall, both the ND and PASOK gained higher percentages of the vote than they had in the most recent national election, the June 1994 choice of delegates to the European Union (EU--see Glossary). Experts believed that the failure of the Political Spring (Politiki Anixi--PA) to repeat its EU election result heralded the decline of that party (see Political Parties , this ch.).

    Greece is traditionally divided into nine regions, the boundaries of which are based on geographical, historical, and cultural factors (see fig. 7; Geographical Regions , ch. 2). The Greater Athens area is sometimes designated as an unofficial tenth region. Although used for statistical purposes, the regions have no administrative significance. They are, however, the basis for subdividing the nation into fifty-two provinces or prefectures, which are the main subnational administrative units and the principal links between the central and local government. Besides the duties of local administration, the province governor or nomarch functions as the principal agent of the central government, with responsibility to coordinate the activities of ministerial field offices within his or her jurisdiction. The governor is assisted by a provincial council, which is composed of the mayor of the province's capital, two representatives drawn from the municipalities and communes, representatives of mass organizations for farmers, workers, professionals, and employers, and selected members of public corporations. For consultation on local matters of shared interest, two or more provincial councils may hold joint meetings with senior officials of the central government ministries.

    The bottom level of local government in 1995 consists of 359 municipalities, and 5,600 communes, or wards. Usually a municipality is a town encompassing a population exceeding 10,000 inhabitants, and a commune has 5,000 to 10,000 persons. Municipalities and communes elect councils headed by a mayor and a president, respectively; the mandate of these councils is renewed every four years, with elections coinciding with local elections at the next highest level. The membership of the local councils varies from five to sixty-one deputies, depending on population.

    The Mount Athos Peninsula, the site of a monastic center of the Orthodox Church of Greece since A.D. 959, has constitutionally guaranteed autonomous status apart from the regular administrative structure of Greece. Mount Athos, officially the Monastic Republic of Mount Athos, includes twenty monasteries governed by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Nevertheless, the state is represented there by a governor, whose duty it is to ensure that public order and safety is maintained and that the charter of autonomy is faithfully implemented.

    Data as of December 1994

    NOTE: The information regarding Greece on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Greece The Judiciary information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Greece The Judiciary should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.

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