Colombia’s Supreme Court on Monday ordered the criminal investigation of 12 congressmen and two (former) ministers for the congressional approval of a controversial justice reform that was later sunk because it allegedly granted “unconstitutional” legal benefits to lawmakers.
The six senators and six representatives face criminal charges after the two-chamber commission they formed altered the government-proposed reform behind closed doors to the extent that President Juan Manuel Santos was forced to sink the reform earlier this year.
Additionally, the court ordered ordered a similar investigation of the country’s then-Interior and Justice ministers who on the government’s behalf were responsible for the bill’s legislative fate.
The reform bill was initially proposed by the Colombian government, but severely altered while passing through Congress.
Because the bill was changed in the last plenary debate in the House, a conciliary commission of six senators and six representatives was formed to seek the Senate’s approval of the changes.
While behind closed doors, the commission further altered the bill.
The exact changes were never made public as neither the president nor the legislative chambers released the final text that was sunk by the president.
Some of the objections made by Santos included:
- Terminating the Prosecutor General Office’s authority to continue criminal investigations against public officials. If the bill were to go into effect, about 1,500 investigations into public officials would be interrupted.
- Allowing public officials to continue in their positions even after found guilty of any charges or investigations.
- Placing the jurisdiction under a single official by eliminating the Administrative Chamber of the Supreme Judiciary Counsel. According to Santos, this would cause a collapse of the judicial branch.
The legislative process and the consequent failure to have the bill approved caused a public controversy, the resignation of then-Justice Minister Juan Carlos Esguerra and preceeded a steep drop in the president’s approval rating.
According to the Supreme Court, the handling of the bill — particularly the inclusion of amendments outside the congress’ regular commissions and plenary debates — merits a criminal investigation of the alleged abuse of power of the members of the commission.