Sam Tanson: I take this extremely seriously

Justice minister Sam Tanson (Déi Gréng) is overseeing a raft of reforms aimed at bringing Luxembourg’s justice system up to speed amid criticism that it’s not doing enough to combat crime.

This interview was conducted for the October 2021 edition of Delano Magazine, out for publication on 23 September, and took place before a 4 September incident in the Gare district involving a private security agent.

New rules from 16 September aim to speed up court proceedings. What is changing?

Sam Tanson: The project “Efficiency of the judiciary” is about making procedures more efficient and quicker. There are two key reforms. On the one hand, the jurisdiction of justices of the peace increa­ses. It’s currently fixed at €10,000 and will be raised to €15,000. It’s meant for simpler cases and you don’t need to be represented by a lawyer. The other big change concerns cases that are below €100,000 at the district courts with only two parties involved. The number of written briefs will be limited, with fixed deadlines. In addition, there’s a range of procedural adjustments.

The wheels of justice have a reputation of turning slowly. How does the situation in Luxembourg compare to its neighbours?

There’s a document by the Council of Europe that reviews the efficiency of justice systems, and we’re not in a bad position. The only weak point, and we know this, is the administrative courts. Our efficiency there is a bit below average.

Where do you see the greatest need to relieve pressure and clear backlogs?

It’s not that the administrative courts are blocked, but they received more responsibi­lities these past years and decades. One of the proposals to resolve this is the law on judicial clerks. Cases are increasingly technical, so that it’s no longer just a question of legal expertise, for example, in tax matters. Urban development is another such field, or financial crime. The law will allow the recruitment of specialists who will support the magistrates.

The government in its 2018 coalition programme announced a series of legal reforms, including family law, company law, whistleblower protection, juvenile delinquency… Mid-way through the election cycle, how confident are you about progress made?

I’m optimistic that we will be able to conclude the big projects. Concerning whistleblowers, for example, we’re in the final talks with other ministries. In family law, we’ve submitted the project on access to personal origins, which depends on another project, on filiation, where we received the opinion by the state council just before the summer. Another project concerning family is a reform of adults under guardianship laws. Parliament is working hard on bankruptcy law. We’re working with the education ministry on the protection of minors. There are a lot of things happening.

These reforms aim to modernise law, bring it up to speed with the 21st century. Which one do you think will have the biggest impact on people’s lives?

Law always has an impact. When we adopt a law, this has an impact on everyday life, whether indirectly–because we’re reforming bankruptcy law–or because of something that a lot of people are affected by, such as parentage or adults under guardianship.

There have been headline-grabbing incidents in recent months–muggings, Luxembourg City hiring private security agents–and questions raised about the justice system’s ability to respond.

I take this extremely seriously. There isn’t a lot that’s worse than feeling unsafe in everyday life, in your environment. As a politician you have a responsibility, first, not to stoke fears unnecessarily; secondly, to reassure people and explain what it is that you’re doing; and third, not to paint a wrong picture. Our justice system has no tolerance for violence. Neither do I. We’re working on a series of measures. Once the police and the justice system get involved, we’re treating the symptoms of a problem. We must act against violence in schools, prevent this from becoming habitual at the level of juvenile protection and delinquency. A large part of crime comes from the drugs problem, which we need to consider how to address. Police are being reinforced and we are reviewing laws to see where they don’t have the authority they need to act.

Strengthening the justice system also requires a strong public prosecutor’s office. How will this institution grow over the coming years?

The institution of the prosecutor’s office is extremely important, which is why this is enshrined in the constitution. In terms of recruitment, strengthening the magistracy is self-evident. For the prosecutor’s office some functions require weekend or night shifts and salaries have been increased to acknowledge this work.

Speaking of the separation of powers, the ministry is often confronted with questions about why specific things aren’t moving forward. How difficult is it for you to manage this?

It’s a balancing act. It was one of the questions that was most difficult for me to grapple with: how far do you go as a politician? It’s my leitmotiv that they [the justice system, editor’s note] need to do their work independently. Of course, it’s normal that members of parliament will address questions to me because the judiciary administration is placed under the authority of the ministry. We have a good cooperation, but they do their jurisdictional work and legal proceedings independently and that is extremely important for the rule of law.