The Declaration of Independence marked the first steps in institution building of the new Albanian state. The Assembly of Vlora and the Government headed by Ismail Qemali amongst important initiatives such as the creation of the main legislative and executive powers, also focused on the reorganization of the judiciary.
On May 10, 1913 "The Canon of Jury" was approved; this first act constituted a cornerstone for the organization and functioning of the courts in the Albanian judicial system. The "Canon of Jury" envisaged the creation of the Dictation Court, sub-districts First Instance Courts which would be competent for civil matters and minor offenses, as well as the Peoples’ Court (with a jury from common people) which would handle criminal cases.
According to historical data, this system appears to have been applied on at least one occasion in the region of Elbasan, however it seems that it did not produce the results it was set for. Therefore it is for this reason that on June 4, 1914 it was repealed by a decree and replaced by the law on Courts of Justice in Albania, the later gave birth to the Primary Appeals Court and the Dictation Court.
Throughout 1920-1939 the topics that held a particular importance to the Albanian state and characterized the main discussions in the field of law were: the legal reforms, the reorganization of the judiciary and the increase of professional capability of its employees. It was during this period that the organization and functions of the judiciary in Albania started to consolidate their role and positions.
In 1925, the Fundamental Statute of the Republic of Albania was approved stipulating in its Article 102 that any judge or prosecutor would be appointed to office by the Head of the Republic on the proposal of the Minister of Justice. During this period the judicial system was organized in:
- Religious Courts- each religion had its own court. The decisions taken by these courts were enforced by the court execution offices included in the sub-district courts.
- The Special Military Court was first created in the city of Shkodra. Its composition involved three officers, two civilian members and a civil prosecutor. The jurisdiction of this court covered all matters related to the disruption of public order, offender’s condemnation regardless of grade or proficiency, the condemnation of those officers who had fought against the guard of the King as well as all of those citizens who opposed its government officials’ orders.
- The Special Political Court was headed by an officer. It was composed of two judges along two other officers elected by the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The decisions issued by this court needed to be approved by the Minister of Interior becoming thus final and binding, whereas in the cases when the death penalty was to be issued the approval of the Parliament’s Chair was required.
- The State Supreme Court was composed of five senators and the heads of Dictation Courts. This court had an ad hoc nature, it would judge upon the maters that were considered as ‘high treason’ against the country or the sovereign, political crimes or ministers and high state officials’ abuse of power.
The changes of 1928 turned Albania from a parliamentary system into a monarchy. These changes had an important impact on the functioning of the judiciary too. The law “On the organization of the judiciary “approved on April 1st, 1929 sanctioned the division of courts as follows:
The Courts of Peace operated at the center of every district and sub-district and were divided into three categories enumerated below according to their respective power.
- The Courts of First Instance, were collegiate courts, they exercised their functions in across every district’s administrative jurisdiction. These courts were divided into Primary and Collegial Courts:
- The Primary Court ruled as first instance courts over all the penal cases that fell under the jurisdiction of the Courts of Peace, provided that those offences had taken place within the district boundaries.
- The Collegiate Court composition included the President of the court together with two other members. This court had under its jurisdiction all the criminal cases that would qualify for a sentence of imprisonment of over three years.
The Dictation Court (today the Supreme Court), it was divided into two subdivisions, respectively Civil and Penal Affairs divisions. Every division included the President, four members, an assistant member, a registrar and an essential number of secretaries, clerks and servants. The Dictation Court also incorporated the assistance of a Chief Prosecutor, a deputy chief prosecutor, a secretary, a protocol-archiving officer and a servant.
- The Dictation Court could call the General Meeting, where the chairing role would be played by the President of the Civil Affairs Division. A characteristic of the Dictation Court was its role in granting a fair judicial process, and an unbiased decision making from its justices.
- During the monarchic rule, the function of the supreme administrative court was exercised by the State Council which was divided into the following sections: justice, administration and finance, economy and telecommunication.
1951 Law “On the organization of the judiciary”, structured the Supreme Court according to the following judicial colleges:
Every college reviewed matters falling under the competence of its appointed field, sitting with a judicial body composed of the Chair, one Member of the Supreme Court and two legal assistants.
What appears of interest is the fact that the disciplinary college reviewed the disciplinary misconduct of the people’s judges, court presidents, members of the military courts and members of the Supreme Court. The panel consisted of the President and two members of the Supreme Court or alternatively by the Deputy President and two members as appointed by the President himself/herself.
The Supreme Court also judged under a plenum configuration composed of the President, deputy heads of the court as well as all the members of the Supreme Court.
The guidelines of the Supreme Court’s plenum were framed and driven by the political ideology of the communist regime- so was the whole legal opinion during that era.
The general judicial practice, offered by the Supreme Court, served as a guide to lower courts decisions which needed to be compliant with the legislation in power, the communist ideology and political demands of the time.
With the end of the communist regime, a lot of changes needed to be made in the almost every area of life, including the judiciary as a whole. The introduction of the principles of legality and equality, the prevailing of the rule of law emerged as the fundamentals of the new democratic order.
With Law No.7491, issued 29.04.1991 "On the Main Constitutional Provisions”, The National Assembly decided that the Albanian judicial system would be composed of the Court of Cassation, the Court of Appeals, the Courts of First Instance and the Military Courts.
According to this law the President and Deputy Chairmen of the Court of Cassation were elected by the Parliament on the proposal of the President of the Republic, whereas the Judges were elected by the Parliament. All the members would be elected for a term of 7 years with no right to be reelected. The Court of Cassation could not asses any matters as a court of principal jurisdiction, but it could rule as a court of second instance on a few matters as stipulated by law.
The adoption of the Constitution of the Republic of Albania, sanctioned a system of three instances, providing that " The judicial power is exercised by the Supreme Court, the Appellate courts and the courts of first instance, which are established by law ..." .The Supreme Court would be composed of 17 members, appointed to office by the decree of the President of the Republic and the consent of the Assembly, they would serve for a term of 9-years without the right of being reelected.
The Constitution sanctions the role of the Supreme Court as both of principal jurisdiction and as a court that reviews appeals. Thereby it acts as a court of first instance on penal charges against the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister and members of the Council of Ministers, members of the Parliament, judges of the Constitutional Court. It applies a reviewing jurisdiction on all recourses submitted against the decisions taken by the courts of a lower instance. Additionally the Supreme Court may call the United Colleges to review particular cases that is thought to require a unified judicial practice, and serve as a precedent for the lower courts.
On March 15, 2008 the law Nr. 8588, dt.15.03.2000"On the organization and functioning of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Albania." was approved. The organic law clearly determined the way the Supreme Court was to be organized and function as an independent constitutional institution. This law provides that the Supreme Court hears and rules over both civil and penal cases respectively in the Civil College (division) and the Penal College, or alternatively with the United Colleges should a judicial practice be changed or unified.
The President of the Supreme Court is appointed by the President, acting after the consent of the Parliament and the members in office of the Supreme Court. The President presides under the same mandate that made the later a member of the Supreme Court. Besides its judicial functions, the President has the authority to officially represent the institution, to appoint and dismiss judicial assistants and supportive personnel, as well as to administer the funds allocated to the institution.