Evelina Dobrovolska: In the first hundred days, we laid the foundations for fundamental changes in the execution of sentences, the assurance of human rights, and improvement of the quality of legal services

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2021 04 01

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During her first hundred days as Minister of Justice, Evelina Dobrovolska initiated fundamental changes in the execution of sentences, the assurance of human rights, and improvement of the quality of legal services.

Since the restoration of Lithuanian independence, the network of prison establishments has not seen any substantial or cardinal changes. The changes initiated by the minister started with a stocktake of the state assets used in the penal system and their optimisation. The living space per convict varies significantly between prison establishments, which demands looking for strategic solutions that ensure the efficient use of state assets as well as criminal detention conditions that meet human rights standards. The asset optimisation plan will make it possible to relinquish unused buildings and land so that they can be used for other needs of society. In February, at the initiative of the minister, Lukiškės Remand Prison was finally transferred to Turto bankas. 

A strategy for a penal system that is in line with international standards is currently being developed, which will allow for the modernisation of this system based on the data of cost-benefit analysis. 

The Prison Department is cooperating with Norway in the implementation of a project funded by them. By 2024, a training centre will be established and specialised programmes will be implemented to change the criminogenic behaviour of convicts. Minister Dobrovolska initiated an amendment to this project, expanding the network of halfway houses. Officers at prison establishments have received video recorders, which will ensure order and the safety of officers and convicts. The ministry also initiated meetings with network operators to combat telephone fraud. Cooperation is currently under way with law enforcement authorities and telecommunications representative to finalise a mechanism allowing for more effective control of convict offences. 

In order to strengthen public confidence in the justice system, adherence to the state’s own commitments in appointing top judges in a timely manner and in accordance with a public and transparent procedure is essential. Lithuania has been unsuccessful in nominating a candidate for the European General Court for a couple of years now. Under the updated selection procedure, candidates who have applied to participate in the selection will be made public. Members of the public from the law faculties at Lithuanian universities will also take part in the selection working group.  

Openness and transparency in the private sector is an important precondition for greater public confidence in the state. One of the measures to ensure this is the Register of Final Beneficiaries of Legal Entities (JANGIS), which will help combat the shadow economy and money laundering. Even though the state budget funds necessary for the creation of this register were not provided for 2021, on the initiative of the Minister of Justice, an additional EUR 680,000 were planned in the approved state budget for 2021 so that the register can be completed and launched by the end of this year.  

An audit report on the fees of notaries and judicial officers was published by the National Audit Office in December 2020. Since then, a plan for the implementation of recommendations was drawn up, which will make it possible to set notary and judicial officer fees and the accessibility of their services to the consumer in an objective and sustainable manner; the first steps in its implementation have already begun. 
The State Guaranteed Legal Aid Service renders secondary legal aid and provides premises for mediation, allowing disputes to be resolved peacefully. It is important that these services are also accessible to people with disabilities. Everyone must have equal access to public services, so accessibility for people with disabilities is one of the tasks for the State Guaranteed Legal Aid Service this year. 

Ensuring human rights is an integral part of the agenda of the Ministry of Justice. The Minister of Justice met with a judge from the European Court of Human Rights to discuss the implementation of decisions. Proper regulation and accountability of hate speech and ensuring the rights of transgender people are topics that have so far not received due attention from politicians. The Universal Periodic Review is currently being conducted for Lithuania, which will make it possible to assess both the actual situation and the necessary and inevitable changes in the area of human rights, and to take targeted actions to change the situation. 

From the first days of her term, the Minister of Justice has had to remind Europe that the Lithuanian judges and prosecutors in the January 13 case are European judges and prosecutors. The European Union therefore needs a mechanism to protect its citizens from politically motivated persecution by third countries. During yesterday’s meeting of two European Parliament committees, the European Commission voiced a promise to propose a common approach to potentially illegal or politically motivated third-country extradition requests in the guidelines for extradition requests that will be prepared by the end of this year.  

The work initiated in the first hundred days are the main directions for the next four years to ensure that the law is a tool of the state in the pursuit of commonality and the protection of the rights and freedoms of all individuals.