UPDATE: Researching the Albanian Legal System
By Mbaresa Veleshnja Gentry
Update by Engjellushe (Angel) Kozeli Mozina
Engjellushe (Angel) Kozeli Mozina is an attorney at the firm of Rackemann, Sawyer and Brewster, P.C. in Boston, Massachusetts. She is a graduate of Mount Holyoke College and Suffolk University Law School. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Albanian-American Bar Association.
Published July/August 2019
(Previously updated by Engjellushe (Angel) Kozeli Mozina in May 2013 and September 2015)
Table of Contents
- 1. Albania – General History
- 2. Albanian Body of Law
- 3. The Judiciary System
- 3.1. Constitutional Court
- 3.2. High Council of Justice
- 3.3. Supreme Court
- 3.4. Courts of Appeal
- 3.5. Courts of First Instance
- 3.6. Court of Felonies
- 3.7. Military Courts
- 3.8. Bar Association
- 3.9. Bailiff’s Office
- 3.10.Publication of Court Decisions
- 3.11. Recent Developments
- 4. Albania Legal Research Guides
1. Albania – General History
Albania lies along the eastern coastline of the Adriatic Sea in the western part of the Balkan Peninsula in Southeastern Europe. It is bounded to the northwest by Montenegro, to the northeast by the Kosovo region, to the east by Macedonia, and to the southeast and south by Greece. The capital of Albania is Tirana.
The official language is Albanian (called Shqip by Albanians). In Albanian, the name of the country is Shqiperia. The country’s current population is nearly 3.5 million. Albania is Europe's only predominantly Muslim country – a legacy of nearly five centuries of Ottoman invasion and rule. At the end of World War II, about 70 percent of the population was Muslim, 20 percent Eastern Orthodox, and 10 percent Roman Catholic. Albania has been mostly free of religious conflicts, mainly because Albanians have traditionally displayed a high degree of religious tolerance.
Albania declared its independence from the Ottoman Empire on November 28, 1912. The Conference of Ambassadors in London recognized the country and its independent government led by Ismail Qemali in December 1912. During the Second World War, Albania, under the leadership of the Communist Party, affiliated itself with the international antifascist coalition. After the war, the Communist Party seized power and ruled Albania until 1991. Albania’s 45-year-long communist regime was extreme, self-isolating and totalitarian. The skeletal judiciary was controlled and held hostage by the Chairman of the Communist Party as well as other Communist Party leaders and executive powerbrokers.
The first national multiparty elections of March 22, 1992 brought into power the opposition Democratic Party that won in 90 of the 100 electoral districts. The Democratic Party won the majority of votes in the 1996 elections. However, it lost early elections held in June 1998, after the collapse of widely popular Ponzi pyramid schemes during 1997-1998 caused widespread unrest and brought the country to the brink of civil war. The former Communist Party rebranded as the present-day Socialist Party of Albania came back into power by the elections of 1998 and is currently the governing ruling party. These two major parties continue to trade majority wins and party-led governments every parliamentary electoral cycle, which occur every four years. The next parliamentary elections are due in June 2021.
Albania is transforming its former centralized economy into an open-market one and consolidating its democracy. It joined NATO in 2009. The near-term goal of Albania is to gain full membership into the European Union. Accession talks had been scheduled to commence in late June 2019  but were suspended following the disputed single-party municipal elections held on June 30, 2019.
2. Albanian Body of Law
2.1. Legislative and Executive Bodies
Albania is a parliamentary constitutional republic. Sovereignty in the Republic of Albania belongs to the people. The Constitution is held as the supreme law of the land and was adopted by popular referendum on November 28, 1998. The system of government is based on principles of separation and check and balances of the legislative, executive and judicial powers.
The unicameral Parliament (Kuvendi) represents the legislative branch. It consists of 140 seats, which are determined according to a proportional regional system. All Parliament members are elected by popular vote to serve a four-year term. The internal structure of the Parliament is composed of the Speaker, Deputy Speakers, Bureau of Parliament, Parliamentary Groups, and Parliamentary Commissions. Upon a motion by one fourth of its members, the Parliament can create Special Commissions and Investigatory Commissions. (See the website of the Parliament: in Albanian, English and French.)
The executive branch is represented by the President as the Chief of State, Prime Minister as the Head of Government, and the Council of Ministers.
The President is the head of state and commander in chief of the military and is elected by a three-fifths majority vote of all Parliament members. The President serves for up to two five-year terms. Although the position is largely ceremonial, the Constitution does give the President authority to appoint and dismiss from office some civil servants in the executive and judicial branches and to issue decrees. (See the website of the President’s office: in Albanian and English.)
The Prime Minister is appointed by the President and approved by the Parliament for a four-year term. The Prime Minister serves as the head of government the Chairman of the Council of Ministers, which consists of the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, and 18 ministers. Members of the Council of Ministers are nominated by the Prime Minister and approved by the President. The Council of Ministers introduces to the Parliament legal acts necessary for implementing the Constitution, and issues decisions, instructions, regulations and orders to implement the body of laws approved by Parliament. See the website of the Council of Ministers (in Albanian and English).
2.2. Types of Legislation
All legal acts must be in compliance with the Constitution. International treaties and conventions ratified by the Parliament are superior to and supersede domestic laws and legislation. Legal acts, according to the type of act, are issued and approved by the respective organizations as follows:
- Laws are proposed by the Council of Ministers, approved by Parliament of the Republic of Albania and proclaimed by the President of the Republic;
- Parliamentary decisions are issued by Parliament;
- Decrees are issued by the President of the Republic;
- Normative acts, decisions, instructions, regulations and orders are issued by the Council of Ministers;
- Instructions, regulations and orders are issued by each Ministry; and
- Court Decisions are issued by the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court.
A law, after approval by the Parliament, is promulgated by the President of the Republic, and is effective 15 days after its publication in the Official Gazette.
2.3. Official Legal Publications
Prior to 1999, the Official Gazette (called Fletorje Zyrtare in Albanian) was published by a section within Parliament. Laws issued by Parliament were all published in the Official Gazette, but especially during 1992-1997, many sub-legal acts issued by the Council of Ministers and Ministries or other state central institutions were not. With the intention of fixing this problem, Parliament issued law no. 8502, date 30.6.1999 “On establishing the Official Publication Centre,” under the supervision of the Ministry of Justice. According to this law, “the Centre is required to publish: laws, decrees issued by the President of the Republic, normative acts of the Council of Ministers, ministries, other central institutions, decisions of the Constitutional Court along with dissents, unifying or altering decisions of judicial practice of the Supreme Court, and any other act issued by other state institutions, publication of which is required by law.” The Centre, in addition to the Official Gazette, publishes also compilations of legislation based on subject areas, such as procurement legislation and civil service legislation, updated Codes of Albania (Civil Code, Civil Procedure Code, Criminal Code, Criminal Procedure Code, Family Code, Road Code, Administration Procedures Code, Military Code and Electoral Code) and the Constitution. All publications are only in Albanian. In early 2005, the Official Publication Centre launched a website to make information more widely available.
2.4. Unofficial Legal Publications and Databases
After 1991, several companies were created for the purpose of publishing in electronic form Albanian Legislation. The most popular electronic version of legislation (in Albanian) is the Jurist Program (Programi i Juristit), which is distributed on a CD and updated every three months. The Library of Parliament also produces and makes available to Parliament members an index of legislation.
In 1994, an Index of Albanian Legislation, both in Albanian and English, showing implementation, amendments, references and classification based on subject areas, was established. This Index in the Albanian language is published several times annually and distributed to Courts and Government Agencies with the help of several donor organizations operating in Albania. The English version of this Index is distributed on a subscription basis by the producer.
See also (in vernacular):
- The Online Library of Albanian Legal Acts
- The Center of Official Publications (includes an index of official legal acts, legal acts, the Albanian Constitution, etc.)
3. The Judiciary System
Albania’s current judicial system has been established and evolved over the past three decades. In November 1998, through a popular referendum, Albanians voted on and approved the Constitution of the Republic of Albania. A series of laws and judicial acts have been enacted since helping establish the current structural and operational framework of Albania’s judicial branch. Albania’s legal system is a civil law one, modeled after the French law system. The Constitution has the highest legal authority followed by ratified international agreements, which prevail over domestic laws, and judicial acts issued by the executive branch. Lower court decisions and holdings do not confer or establish legal precedents. Judicial power in Albania is exercised through the courts of first instance, appeal courts and lastly, the Supreme Court, which has final appellate authority.
3.1. The Constitutional Court
The Constitutional Court was created pursuant to Law 7561 dated April 29, 1992. The October 2, 2000 Law no. 8577 “On The Organization and Operation of the Constitutional Court,” drafted with the assistance of the Venice Commission “Democracy Through Law,” established the present-day functions of the Constitutional Court.
The Constitutional Court is an independent body and separate from all branches of government. It is composed of nine members, appointed by the President of the Republic with the consent of the Parliament. They are appointed for nine-year terms and do not have the right to be reappointed.
The Constitutional Court interprets the compatibility of international agreements with the mandates of the Constitution prior to their ratification; verifies compliance with the Constitution in legislative acts passed by local, regional and central government bodies; and adjudicates individual citizens’ claims of constitutional rights breaches and violations.
Judicial review by the Constitutional Court may be requested upon petitions submitted by the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister, 1/5th of Parliament’s members, the Head of High State Control as well as any lower court. When constitutional issues arise during lower court proceedings, the Constitutional Court accepts interlocutory appeals to determine the constitutionality of that issue. The Court’s decisions are final and binding.
The Court’s decisions, including dissenting opinions, are published in the Official Gazette Reporter. As of this update, the Constitutional Court remains defunct due to the forced resignations by most of its justices related to allegations of corruption and lack of professional qualifications.
3.2. The High Council of Justice
The High Council of Justice was a constitutional authority established in April 1992. It was dissolved in April 2017. See below for updates on the successor to this judicial body.
3.3. The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court is organized and operates in compliance with law no. 8588 issued on March 15, 2000. It is the highest court of appeals and functions as a cassation court over the decisions issued by the lower appellate courts. It is composed of 17 judges appointed for a nine-year term by the President with the approval of the Parliament.
The Supreme Court is organized in civil and criminal panels. The criminal panel tries military and criminal cases and the civil panel tries commercial, administrative, family, labor cases and the like. The Chief Judge of the Supreme Court, after taking the opinion of the judges, can move cases from one panel to the other. The Joint Panels of the Supreme Court issue the unification and amendment of court practices.
If an appeal is accepted after cassation review, it is heard by a by five-judge panel. Decisions of the Supreme Court are proclaimed, along with the reasoning behind the decision, no later than 30 days from the date of the termination of the judicial examination. Decisions of the Joint Panels, along with their reasoning, are published in the Periodical Bulletin of the Supreme Court. Decisions that serve the unification or amendment of the court practice are published immediately in the next issue of the Official Gazette.
3.4. Courts of Appeal
Courts of Appeal sit in six different regions of the country and review appeals of decisions issued by Courts of First Instance. These courts sit in three-judge panels. The Courts of Appeal’s judicial regions are established by the President of the Republic, based on a proposal by the Minister of Justice after consulting the High Council of Justice.
The assignment of cases to judicial panels at all levels of the judicial system is done by lottery according to procedures provided by law. To be appointed a judge in the Courts of Appeal, one must possess full legal competence, hold a law degree, have no criminal record, have a "good reputation," and be at least twenty-five years old.
Judges of the Courts of Appeal are nominated by the High Council of Justice and appointed by the President of the Republic. Persons may be nominated if they have worked for not less than five years as judges in the Courts of First Instance and have demonstrated "high ethical, moral and professional standards in the exercise of their duties." Judges of the Court of Appeals continue in that role until they resign, are removed from office, or reach the age of sixty-five.
3.5. Courts of First Instance
The Courts of First Instance preside according to rules of the Codes of Civil Procedure and Criminal Procedure, where the composition of the judges’ panel is also defined.
Courts of First Instance are organized and function in thirty-six judicial districts throughout the country. The territorial jurisdiction of each one is defined by a Decree of the President of the Republic, based on a proposal from the Minister of Justice after consulting with the High Council of Justice.
There are no jury trials under the Albanian system of justice. A panel of three judges renders court verdicts. To be appointed a judge in a Court of First Instance, one must possess full legal competence, hold a law degree, have no criminal record, have a "good reputation," and be at least twenty-five years old.
3.6. Courts of Felonies
The same legal provisions that apply to the establishment of judicial power and the High Council of Justice also apply to organizing and operating Courts of Felonies and Appeal Courts of Felonies, except when otherwise provided by the law on Courts of Felonies. Courts of Felonies and Courts of Appeal of Felonies are part of the judicial system and try felonies, as defined by law, in Courts of the First and Second Instance.
The President of the Republic, based on a proposal by the Minister of Justice who consults with the High Council of Justice, establishes the number of Courts of Felonies and Appeal Courts of Felonies and their territorial jurisdiction.
Courts of Felonies are composed of the Chief Judge, Deputy Chief Judge and judges, appointed for a nine-year term. The Courts of Felonies and the Appeal Courts of Felonies try cases using panels of five judges.
3.7. Military Courts
Military Courts are organized and function within the judicial system according to powers defined by law. Military Courts try military cases and they use panels of three judges.
Military Courts are composed of Courts of First Instance and a Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal reviews second level complaints filed against decisions of the Military Courts of First Instance.
3.8. Bar Association
The Bar was established in 1990 (Law no. 7382 “For the Advocacy in the People's Socialist Republic of Albania,” and amendment of article 9, 10 and 14 of the Code of Penal Procedure, by law no. 7387, both dated 8.5.1990). Before the establishment of the Bar, defendants (and others in need of legal counseling) were assisted by legally trained officials ("advisers"), as established by Decree no. 4277, dated 20.7.1967. Authorities of such advisers did not extend to the investigation phase.
The primary purpose of legal advocacy is to assist defendants during the investigation and the trial, and to serve as counsel in civil and administrative cases. Participation of an advocate is compulsory if the defendant is a minor or is incapable of defending himself because of physical or mental disabilities.
The Bar consists of collegiums of advocates. Membership is restricted to persons with a law degree and who have at least three years of experience as lawyers. The Minister of Justice may grant exceptions from these requirements. Advocates do not have a monopoly on the presentation of cases in court. Individual citizens remain free to present their own case in court.
3.9. Bailiff’s Office
The Bailiff’s Service is in charge of enforcing civil judgments and penal fines. The Bailiff’s Service exercises its functions through judicial bailiff officers, who, in the course of their duty, represent the state.
3.10. Publication of Court Decisions
Decisions of the Constitutional Court are final. They must be published in the Official Gazette and come into force the day of publication. When a decision deals with protection of constitutional rights of individuals, the Constitutional Court may decide such decisions to come into force on the day of its proclamation. The Official Publication Center is required to publish decisions of the Constitutional Court not later than 15 days from their delivery to the Center. The Constitutional Court prepares a compilation of its decisions at the end of the year.
Decisions of the Supreme Court, including an explanation of its reasoning, are proclaimed not later than 30 days from the date of termination of the judicial examination. Decisions of the Joint Panels, along with their reasoning, shall be published in the Periodical Bulletin of the Supreme Court. Decisions that serve to unify or alter court practices are published immediately in the next issue of the Official Gazette.
3.11. Recent Developments
As of 2018, Albania has 408 full-time judges (13 per 100 000 inhabitants) and 336 full-time prosecutors (11 per 100 000 inhabitants). There are 44 lawyers per 100 000 inhabitants. According to the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ), the European average is 21 judges/11 prosecutors per 100 000 inhabitants.
In July 2016, Albania passed its most current judicial reform package as a pre-condition to EU accession talks. As of December 2018, the Justice Appointment Council, the High Prosecutorial Council and the High Judicial Council, the latter two replacing the former High Council of Justice, were formed in order to ensure the independence of the judiciary.
The creation of a Special Anti-Corruption Unit (SPAK), which includes a Special Prosecution Office and National Bureau of Investigation, modeled on the FBI, is currently underway. The 2016 reform package also envisages the establishment of a Justice Appointment Council in charge of appointment criteria for the judges of the Constitutional Court and the candidates for the office of the High Justice Inspector.
4. Albania Legal Research Guides
- Eralius: Consolidation in the Justice System of Albania (European Union)
- Delegation of the European Union to Albania (European Commission)
- Global Legal Information Catalog: Albania (Law Library of Congress)
- Albanian Legal Information Initiative (Chicago-Kent College of Law)
- Foreign Official Gazette Database: Albania (Center for Research Libraries)
- ForIntLaw: Albania (Washburn University School of Law Library)
- World Legal Information Institute: Albania (WorldLII)
- World Legal Materials from Europe: Albania (Cornell Legal Information Institute)
- NATLEX: Albania (International Labour Organization) Database Of National Laws On Labor, Social Security, And Related Human Rights
- RefWorld Legal Information: Albania (UNHCR)
- WIPO Lex: Albania IP Laws and Treaties (World Intellectual Property Organization)
 See Newsweek: ‘A Hardliner’s Nightmare’: Religious Tolerance in Europe’s Only Majority-Muslim Country
 See Stratfor, Albania's EU Aspirations
 See Reuters: Albanian police disperse protesters with tear gas and water cannon, March 16, 2019. See also The Economist’s report on Albania
 See American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative, Judicial Reform Index for Albania, Volume IV, December 2008, page 5 (hereafter, “ABA Report”).
See also Xh. Zaganjori, A. Anastasi, E. Cani, Rule of Law in the Constitution of the Republic of Albania, Adelprint, Tirane, 2011 (Hereafter, “Rule of Law Report”), footnote 203.
 See Rule of Law Report, page 114, footnote 211.
 See ABA Report page 5, n1.
 Id. at page 6.
 See International Constitutional Law: Albania Index (Universität Bern Institut für Öffentliches Recht).
 See Rule of Law Report at 159.
 See New Constitutional Court May Not Reach Quorum After Summer at: https://exit.al/en/2019/08/02/new-constitutional-court-may-not-reach-quorum-after-summer/
 See Page 20 of the Albania 2018 Report by European C Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions.
 See Delegation of the European Union to Albania News Update.
 See Integrated Country Strategy: Albania (US Department of State).