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Friday Briefing: The seven sins of the portuguese justice system

Good morning and welcome to PORTUGAL DECODED. Leaked wiretaps of former PM António Costa last week confirmed what many already knew: the Portuguese justice system is in deep trouble. Here's why.


Lucília Gago, the current Attorney General, has already said that she will stand down from her post in October


EU leaders tapped former Portuguese PM António Costa to lead the European Council. But hold your horses: the European Parliament still needs to confirm the nominations for the EU’s top jobs (More).
Portugal’s budget deficit swung to 0.2% of GDP in the first quarter and PM Luís Montenegro blamed it on the previous Government. However, he still believes that the country will reach a surplus “between 0.2% and 0.3% of GDP” in 2024 (More).


A new study showed that people living near Lisbon airport are at greater risk of hypertension, diabetes or dementia. Meanwhile, the head of the commission to choose the new airport’s location said that it could be built before 2030 (More).
The National Road Safety Authority will turn on 25 new speed cameras across the country on July 6, bringing the total to 123 radars. Find out how they work and where they are located (More).


On the week “Good Morning America” was broadcast from Portugal, new data showed that North Americans now lead hotel occupancy in Lisbon, registering a year-on-year growth of 16.2% (More).
Though house prices continue to slowdown, Portugal has become the EU country where the discrepancy between house prices and family income has worsened the most in recent years (More).


The painting “Meadow” by Paula Rego was sold on Tuesday at a Sotheby’s auction in London for 2.45 million euros. It was the piece’s first time in the market since it was bought in 1997 after her Marlborough gallery show in New York (More).
Brazilian poet Adélia Prado won the Camões Prize, the most prestigious literature prize in the Portuguese language. Her work mixes religion, desire and death, focusing on the anxieties of family women who enjoy sex and fear God (More).


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Why is the Portuguese justice system in big trouble?

Though concerns about the politicization of the judicial power in Portugal are not new, the high profile cases of recent months have exposed magistrates to criticism like never before. In May, a poll for RTP revealed that 72% of the Portuguese have an unfavorable view of the justice system in Portugal. More recently, 100 personalities from across the political spectrum (except the far-right) signed a manifesto (here’s a rough translation of the text) calling for a reform of the justice system. Find out what they are complaining about:

1. Oversight

Days after ‘Operation Influencer’, which brought down a sitting Government for the first time in Portugal's history, prosecutors were forced to admit three mistakes: 1) they confused the name of Prime Minister António Costa, with that of Economy Minister António Costa Silva in the transcript of wiretaps; 2) they mixed up the spot of an alleged meeting between the defendants; 3) they focused on an ordinance that was, after all, in no way related to the case. At the end of the week, the investigating judge released all detained and dropped the suspicions of corruption.

2. Slowness

According to the ‘EU Justice Scoreboard 2023’, despite improvements, Portugal is still the 5th country EU with “the longest duration of court proceedings” (in both lower and higher courts), and the slowest EU country when it comes to consumer protection cases. In Portugal, it can take 792 days to get a case through “the first instance” (the first court hearing), 836 for the second (‘appeal court’) and 261 for the third (generally ‘final appeal’). In the so-called “mega-cases” - the most complex and large cases - a trial can last over 15 years, meaning that justice often arrives too late to make any difference to those involved.

3. Close ties with the press

Along with the media spectacle that usually accompanies the Public Prosecutor’s interventions (with journalists often arriving at the sites of investigations before the prosecutors) and the surgical placement of news about ongoing investigations (such as the revelation that 75.800 euros in cash were seized from the Chief of Staff’s office), there are also recurrent leaks of ongoing investigations. In Portugal, this behaviour is all the more problematic because of the “Secrecy of Justice rule”, which states that all parties to the investigation are bound by a duty of secrecy in order to guarantee the rights to privacy, to a good name and reputation of those involved.

4. Abuse of individual rights and freedoms

Prolonged wiretaps (the former Environment Minister was monitored for four years), wiretaps unrelated to the cases under investigation, unjustified house searches and preventive detentions of dubious legality (for example, in Madeira, the defendants spent seven days waiting to be questioned, though article 28 of the Portuguese Constitution states that arrests must be submitted for judicial review within 48 hours) have led some describe to equate the behaviour of the justice system to that of the former political police PIDE. Last Sunday, on his weekly TV show, Luís Marques Mendes, an influential commentator and former centre-right leader, said: “The April 25 coup was undertaken precisely to put an end to these kind of behaviours and suspicions.”

5. Suspicions of bias

Following Operation Influencer, a deputy Attorney General, Maria José Fernandes, wrote a controversial opinion piece in Público, blasting the prosecutors’ willingness to act on behalf of certain political actors: “One thing’s for sure: a certain far-right populist politician’s defence of the prosecution is something that should make us think!” More recently, Gabriela Assunção, the investigating judge in the case of the twins were treated at Santa Maria Hospital, criticized the prosecutors’ exclusion of President Marcelo in the investigation. She argued that the President did not behave “neutrally” and criticized the prosecutors for not having “carried out (...) any legal framework regarding the actions of (...) Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa”.

6. Leadership crisis

Yesterday, the Minister of Justice said in an interview that the new Attorney General (to take office in October) “must put the house in order.” For good reason. The Statute of Public Prosecutors, approved in 2020, granted the prosecutors greater functional autonomy, allowing them to conduct searches order wiretaps, and detain suspects without the control of any hierarchical superior. In practice, this means that they have almost free rein since their superiors can only intervene in the final phase of the enquiry. In this context, it has become increasingly clear that the Attorney General has limited powers to stop or monitor ongoing investigations, leading some to compare it to the “Queen of England”, since its has no effective powers.

7. Lack of accountability

Given the succession of blunders, one would expect that prosecutors in these cases would come under scrutiny. Yet, nothing of the kind has happened. The prosecutors cannot even be directly disciplined for their actions and procedural decisions by their immediate superiors. They are only accountable to the Superior Council of the Public Prosecutor's Office - a body with a plural and pluralist composition that governs the careers and discipline of prosecutors - which, in turn, does not have, powers of procedural direction. To make matters worse, since Operation Influencer took Portuguese politics by storm, the Attorney General has mostly kept silent and disappeared from the public eye. This, in turn, has led to calls to force her to testify before Parliament.



Summer Garden

In a year that marks such important dates as the 50th anniversary of the 25th of April and the 100th anniversary of Amílcar Cabral’s birth, the Gulbenkian Foundation’s Summer Garden is committed to telling difficult stories and experimenting with poetic dialogues that convey solidarity and future. Music will continue to be present in the Sítio da Oliveira and the Open-Air Amphitheatre, but it also takes to the stage of the Grand Auditorium. Additionally, the programme will include a series of talks in the Auditorium 2 and a film cycle in the Open-Air Amphitheatre. During the Summer Garden there is free admission to the Gulbenkian Museum and the temporary exhibitions, Saturdays between 18:00 and 21:00 and Sundays between 14:00 and 21:00 (upon ticket collection). More information here.


Shared Landscapes

Shared Landscapes is part of the European project Performing Landscape, the result of a collaboration with institutions and organizations from Spain, Italy, Portugal, Austria, Slovenia, Germany, Switzerland and France. Artists, cultural institutions and scientists develop a reflection on the notions of art, landscape and territory, drawing a visible and invisible map of the different European places they visit, unveiling the spaces they share through the prism of arts and sciences. Quinta do Pisão, in Cascais, will be the Portuguese “shared landscape” for this European project. Ticket price: €10 with free round trip bus included  (discounts) + Lunchbox available €10 when purchasing a ticket (salmon, chicken, vegetarian menu) . Duration route lasts 7 hours, with a break | bilingual event in Portuguese and English.


Spoils of War

Leonel de Castro’s photographic essay tells the story of the Colonial War (1961-1974) through the indelible marks on the bodies of men and women who, as children, took up arms for the liberation armies in Angola, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau. From the cemeteries where Portuguese soldiers were buried, which are now abandoned, from the places where machine-gun fire punched lives of all colours, from the prisons of Salazarism, from the silent memories. Of many thousands of deaths. Using techniques that range from pioneering photography to digital support, they will end up in what will be the definitive supports for the work, a book and an exhibition. A daunting experience at the Centro Português de Fotografia until October 10, 2024.

Caldas da Rainha

Helena Almeida: Inhabiting the work

The Leopoldo de Almeida Museum of the Arts Centre, Caldas da Rainha, brings together a group of works by Helena Almeida from the Serralves Collection and from important collections on deposit at the Foundation. Almeida, who died in Lisbon in 2018, was a multi-disciplinary artist best known for her performances regarding the body and its relationship to painting. Associated with the Body Art movement, Almeida’s performances confront the portrayal of women in art history, her works are in the collections of the Tate Modern in London, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, among others. Entrance is free.


Each year, in July, the largest Portuguese event in the area of world music is held, the Festival Músicas do Mundo (FMM) in Sines. This year’s edition will be held on July 20-27, and will include performances by Salvador Sobral, Mayra Andrade, Ana Frango Elétrico, MOMO, Samba Touré and the Palestinians DAM. One of the festival’s venues is Sines Castle, a setting and space that shows the great range and wealth of the world’s different cultural expressions, in what is considered to be one of the country’s most democratic cultural events. Full details here.


Med Festival ‘24

On its 20th birthday, this festival, which celebrates Mediterranean culture and world music, is quickly becoming one of the highlights of the summer. This years’ edition, running from 27-30 June, features 54 artists representing 31 countries on 12 stages, street performers wander, food stalls, arts and crafts, poetry, cinema, children’s activities, exhibitions and lectures. Morocco has been chosen as this year’s guest country so each day of the festival a Moroccan band performs on the main stages and a traditional Moroccan souk will be recreated in the Cloister of the Convent. On Sunday, 30 June, the festival is open and free to the public to mix and mingle and take part in final activities. For more information, visit the Festival Med website.


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