Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Montesquieu's Ghost

It all sounds so impressive, the grand talk of Montesquieu and the separation of powers. Politics shall not interfere with the judicial system and judges shall act as independent custodians of the law. Now for the reality. The institution formally responsible for governing the judicial system in Spain is the Consejo General del Poder Judicial (CGPJ), although there is a Ministry of Justice too. The CGPG is supposed to be formed by a mixture of experienced judges and eminent jurists, and to be above the party political battle.

However, the current members of the CGPJ have overstayed their welcome by a long way, their term of office expired two years ago. This situation arose because the Partido Popular systematically blocked any renovation in the last parliament in order to try and preserve the conservative majority in the institution, at least until the general election when the PP hoped to be returned to power. These same conservative members effectively acted as a judicial wing of the PP throughout the last four years, and in the process left the institution itself severely discredited.

Now, with the long awaited renovation of the CGPJ, it seems that the government is prepared to do its bit to remove any left over shreds of credibility for this body. The new members appointed divide evenly between members close to the PSOE and those close to the PP. Two other members have been nominated by the conservative nationalist parties in the Basque Country and Cataluña following the same model of political loyalty. The nationalist representatives have been allowed in on the understanding that they won't ever gang up with the other conservative representatives. As you can see, the very model of judicial impartiality. The almost 50% of judges who do not align themselves with any professional association are feeling a bit put out, none of them have been chosen.

It gets worse, one of the PP's appointees stands out in particular. Judge Gemma Gallego was responsible for one of the most ridiculous farces arising from the conspiracy theories about the Madrid bombings. She was the judge who laid charges against several senior police officers over the insane “boric acid case”, indeed those behind this piece of nonsense manoeuvred very hard to get the case into her hands. Now she gets her reward for party loyalty, but who can seriously pretend that someone who behaves in this way is demonstrating the qualities needed to oversee the judicial system? It also puts talk of the change in the PP's attitude into perspective.

Now the only question is how long it will take before one of the CGPJ's members treats us to a stern lecture on the impartiality of their decisions. It all raises the issue of whether it's necessary to have such a body at all, apart from its usefulness in rewarding loyalty and in putting a barrier between the government and the chaotic state of the judicial system. The latter has been illustrated today when the outgoing CGPJ finally dealt with the case of a judge who had failed to execute a sentence against someone who then subsequently murdered a little girl. The CGPJ has fined the judge €1500 for what they appear to see as a slight oversight, think about that if you ever come before the courts accused of negligence.

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