"Temporary character of judges threatens judicial independence"
UN Special Rapporteur refutes the thesis sustained by the President of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice
Hand-picked appointment of judges and the fact that their permanence in their posts depends on the same hand that picked them up threaten independence and impartiality of the Judicial Branch of Power in Venezuela.
This warning was issued by Gabriela Knaul, UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, during the conference she gave on June 4 at the Andrés Bello Catholic University (UCAB), in Caracas, in which she stated: "Appointing judges through mechanisms that are not based on objective criteria jeopardizes judicial independence, because these appointments can respond to political convenience."
Knaul's opinion contradicts the thesis of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ) president, Justice Luisa Estella Morales, who in June 2010 stated: "The appointment as provisional, accidental or permanent judge does not change their independence, because this latter lies on other elements, such as not interference of any force or opinion with their decisions. Moreover, temporary judges' rulings are as independent as those handed by permanent judges."
What is the difference between permanent and temporary judges? The former come to their posts after being submitted to a series of tests and, therefore, they cannot be removed unless a process declaring them guilty of any fault has taken place; whereas the latter are appointed by the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ), upon review of their credentials. Although the Judicial Code of Ethics provides for that the dismissal of temporary judges requires a process similar to that for permanent judges, the TSJ has been ignoring this requirement and continues to remove them by alleging that "their appointment was declared void."
In Venezuela, more than 50% of the 1,900 judges are temporary.
The Rapporteur also criticized that judges may lose their posts all of a sudden and without having been submitted to disciplinary processes, just because someone believes that "they can be intimidated or prosecuted."
There is not freedom without justice
Knaul explained that independent courts are essential, not only to the survival of democracy, but of the own citizens.
"When lawyers can defend their clients without fear of reprisals; when attorneys can investigate freely; and when judges can try without fearing for their families and their rights, that they may be jailed or have to go underground, then they will be able to uphold the rights of the citizens," she stated, and added: "Judges' capability to act freely is essential for the defense of Human Rights."
Knaul, who visited the country not in official mission but to attend a congress of layers in Margarita Island, used her stay in Caracas not only to deliver this conference at the UCAB, but also to meet the suspended 31st control judge of Caracas, María Lourdes Afiuni, whose case Knaul has known through the reports that Afiuni's layers have brought to her office.
Translated by Álix Hernández
The very early morning after the presidential election (April 15), both candidates requested the National Electoral Council (CNE) to conduct a full audit of the process: one, Henrique Capriles, because he asserts that the election results are different from the ones announced, and the other one, Nicolás Maduro, in order to clear any doubt regarding his victory, and to reinforce his political stance. Nevertheless, as it is already known, President Maduro changed his mind.