Portuguese Justice must not only be done; it must be seen to be done says judge

 In Economy, ICPT, News, Structural Reforms

Text: Chris Graeme Photo: Joaquim Morgado

Portuguese justice is in a shambles and needs a major efficiency overhaul as well as a publicity makeover to improve its standing in the eyes of the Portuguese public.

This is according to a long-standing Portuguese judge and the son of a former Portuguese Prime Minister, Paulo Mota Pinto. “Justice must not only be done; it must be seen to be done” he said at a Lisbon luncheon event organised by the International Club of Portugal last week.
At the event, Paulo Mota Pinto, who has 13 years standing as a judge by profession under his belt, said there is an idea that the justice system in Portugal had “made little progress over the past 45 years”, but said it was a “incorrect diagnosis” . “Justice is an area full of conflict by its very nature. People are dealing with litigation issues, therefore conflict is inevitable”, he explained.
“There are arguments and divisions as to how the system operates and how it should function, that there is a general consensus today that our justice system has a management and efficiency problem”, added the parliamentary Chief Whip of the centre-right PSD party.
And warned: “If I were an overseas investor I would not want to invest in Portugal knowing the length of time it takes to resolve litigation cases here”.
The problem was also one of supervision. “In Portugal there is a lack of judicial control of public power, in terms of protective orders, with cases taking five to 10 years to resolve on average”, he said, referring to a number of high profile political corruption cases in Portugal that have been dragging on for around a decade, one of which involves a former Socialist Party Prime Minister.
“There is not a catch-all solution for the reforms need in this multi-faceted area. If there were, we would have found it. I think we have to introduce more efficiency in the way the system is managed, including external audits, productivity measures (dealing efficiently and quickly with the number of cases coming in and going out resolved), a reduction in the time it takes or cases to be resolved, more use of new innovation and technology such as digitalisation (in administrative and court) processes. I think it would be worth investing something from Portugal’s Recovery and Resilience Programme on this in my opinion”, he said.
The general image the Justice system has in Portugal also needed to be given a makeover, i.e., ‘Justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done’.
Choosing as his keynote speech topic ‘Portugal’s Great Challenges’, Paulo Mota Pinto took stock of the progress that Portugal had made since the Revolution of 25 April 1974, the 50th anniversary commemorations of which will be held in April 2024.
Given that the ruling government PS party has an absolute majority in parliament, Portugal, he said, has a “unique opportunity” to meet some of the challenges which have installed or even got worse over the past 20 year. “We’ve progressed a lot since April 25 Revolution democratically”.
With four years to go before the next general election, and a lot of liquidity from the European Commission’s ‘Bazooka’ Recovery and Resilience Programme available, as well as a cooperative and supportive President of the Republic, and even a supportive opposition party prepared to cooperate over reforms, Paulo Mota Pinto said it was a “golden opportunity to get things done”.
These include structural reforms, meaning measures that change the fabric of Portugal’s economy and the institutional and regulatory framework in which businesses and people in Portugal operate. Reforms designed to ensure the Portuguese economy is fit and better able to realise its growth potential in a balanced way.
Another challenge was economic and the convergence of Portugal’s economy with the average productivity and growth (wealth) in the Euro Zone.
There are also challenges for the political system in Portugal and the falling demographic in Portugal.


In terms of heath and Portugal’s SNS (National Health System), Paulo Mota Pinto showed concern over the “degradation of our health system” and while Portugal has made progress in many indicators such as infant mortality, he said it was necessary to abandon ideological preconceptions within the SNS organisation”.
“We often fail to wake up to the facts and the questions are simple: what is more expensive and more profitable: have it managed publicly or manage it through Public-Private Partnerships?”
“It seems impossible to reach a consensus on ideological grounds, but independent studies show, in my opinion, it is not more expensive, and actually works out cheaper and the quality is just as good, and could even help improve the situation of a lack of family doctors in certain parts of the country”.


Paulo Mota Pinto denied that the conservative PSD party would “scrap the National Health Service” but introducing PPPs would make it more efficient in terms of ratios of cost benefits.
The legal beagle was also of the opinion that this current government was more ‘conservative’ in terms of reforms since any government since 25 April 1974, and admitted that the former disgraced prime minister José Sócrates “for all his faults” had been “more of a reformer” than the current Socialist PS government led by António Costa.

Convergence with the EU

One area which had been a complete disillusion for the Portuguese public is successive governments failure to converge the Portuguese economy in terms of wealth creation in line with the EU average.
“We thought back in 1985-6 that our economy was growing and we would achieve convergence within five to 10 years, but for various reasons this goal proved to be an illusion. I do not agree with the argument that the average fell because of the entry of Eastern European countries, and we have moved further away from the average as a result. Nor do not agree with the Prime Minister’s diagnosis “history explains it””, he said.
Paulo Mota Pinto said there was no room for “historical fatalism” and we are not condemned have two-quarters or one-third of the wealth per capita of the European Union because of all these excuses that other countries are closer to Germany or speak English, etc. I don’t accept this argument”.
Instead, Paulo Mota Pinto says the problem is governments not pursuing the correct policies and this is what “we should or need to do now”.
Portugal had been overtaken in terms of GDP per capital by Poland and Hungary, while there were six countries “worse off than us” in the EU: Greece, Lithuania, Romania, Croatia, Slovakia and Bulgaria. “I don’t think it’s because Poland and Hungary are at the early phases of being Member States that they have overtaken us. We’ve got four years ahead, and a lot of EU funding, and we need to apply it in such a way that we can try and increase the potential of our economy,” concluded Paulo Mota Pinto.
The event was also attended by ex-finance minister and economist Eduardo Catroga who helped negotiate a controversial sale in 2011 of a 23.26% share in Portugal’s electricity company EDP (Energias de Portugal) to the Chinese government controlled company China Three Gorges despite the opposition of the United States government administration at the time.
Editor’s Note: Paulo Mota Pinto is the son of Carlos Alberto da Mota Pinto who a short-lived prime minister of Portugal between 22 November 1978 and 1 August 1979. After the Carnation Revolution, on 25 April 1974, he helped in the foundation, jointly with Francisco Sá Carneiro, Francisco Pinto Balsemão, Joaquim Magalhães Mota, João Bosco Mota Amaral, Alberto João Jardim, António Barbosa de Melo and António Marques Mendes, of the Popular Democratic Party (PPD, today the PSD). He was elected Deputy to the Constituent Assembly and to the Assembly of the Republic (the name of the Assembly has its origins in a Mota Pinto’s proposal) for PPD. Having distanced himself from Prime Minister Sá Carneiro, they would reconcile (at the time of Sá Carneiro’s death in a plane crash, when they both supported the same presidential candidate, Soares Carneiro). He would again return to the party to serve as vice-president in 1983 and President in 1984 and 1985.