Colombia’s former Prosecutor General, Senator Viviane Morales, labeled the government’s justice reform proposals as a “hoax” on Monday, while ministers insist they will curb rampant corruption in the judicial branch.
Colombia’s justice system has been exposed as vastly corrupt in recent months, with almost all of the country’s top courts — and the prosecutor general — under fire about their integrity after a series of corruption allegations.
President Juan Manuel Santos subsequently announced a collection of agreed reforms – many already included in a Balance of Powers reform that already was in development in Congress.
The new “Supercourt”
The main point of agreement was the creation of a “Supercourt,” which aims to replace the Accusations Commission in prosecuting magistrates and the prosecutor general.
The “Supercourt” will have the power to make judgement on other magistrates who have previously been effectively immune from the judicial system. This is because the conditions laid out by the Constitution of 1991 for their investigation have never resulted in a single judge or prosecutor being charged before Congress.
In light of this reform, judges expressed their fear that they were to be judged on the merits of their sentences.
Senator Claudia Lopez subsequently proposed an agreement with the judiciary; that they enjoy immunity from any judgment of their court decisions.
In the fifth paper for discussion — which began evaluation on Tuesday – was included an article that would enshrine the immunity.
“The judges of the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, Council of State and the Prosecutor General’s Office are inviolable for the content of court, unless it is shown that the decisions were made to unduly favor the interests of themselves or others,” reads the article.
Colombian liberal Senator Viviane Morales has labelled the article the greatest “monstrosity” that has arisen in the attempted reform of the balance of power, even calling the project a “hoax.”
The former Prosecutor General said that if Congress grants immunity to the magistrates they will not be able to open an investigation against any of their actions because nobody will have the ability to examine the content of judicial rulings.
“How do you show the dark motives that can exist through a decision, if you cannot examine the content of such a decision?” she asked on Monday, adding that the government “lies cynically” when it asserts that the high judges will now be accountable under the law.
“Immunity creates nothing but absolute irresponsibility for the judicial decisions that they make,” Morales insisted.
The senator said that in light of the rulings of the Constitutional Court, the inviolability “means the exclusion of criminal prosecution and civil action for all the votes or opinions generated in the performance of their duties,” or rather “a defense through which action taken, although potentially criminal activity, is not punishable.”
“This means that, from now on, should a high court magistrate or the prosecution issue a ruling clearly contrary to the law, arbitrary or unfair, they could not be investigated, tried or convicted,” said the liberal.
Morales fears that “it will be a pantomime of judgment.”
The government’s defense
Santos contrastingly presented the reform as the solution to the great justice crisis in Colombia and a response to the expectation of the people regarding the need for the magistrates of the high courts to have real and effective judgment.
Colombian Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo responded directly to Morales on Tuesday.
Cristo said that it is not certain that the project will include impunity for magistrates or the prosecution.
The minister also argued that it does not make sense to create a parallel body in the new Supercourt to enquire about the decisions of the judges in their rulings.
“It has no logic to create a body in the Supercourt to evaluate the judgments and rulings of the magistrates, because it would generate an air of legal uncertainty that would not suit the country,” Cristo asserted.
“The new Supercourt will have the ability to investigate and prosecute for bad conduct, or for the legal responsibility of the judges involved in the cases in which the conduct occurred,” he further explained.
Senator Lopez also defended the proposals. “The inviolability is for judgments, not if the judges commit a crime. For that they will be judged by the Supreme Court,” she said.
Judicial corruption crisis
The latest judicial scandal involved the refused resignation of the president of the Constitutional Court, despite his embroilment in the biggest case of corruption the court has ever seen.
Magistrate Jorge Pretelt returned to work despite a near-universal desire for his stepping down. The high judge insists that he is innocent of the corruption allegations and therefore that he should remain in his court position.
Pretelt came under unprecedented fire when magistrate Mauricio Gonzalez accused the court president of asking oil company Fidupetrol for $200 thousand in return for promising that the court would revoke a $9 million fine imposed on the company by a lower court.
If found guilty of demanding bribes to alter the sentences of one of the country’s highest courts, it would reveal a corruption practice that is entirely unprecedented on the highest possible level of Colombia’s justice hierarchy.