Government seeks to depoliticize legal watchdog and cut salaries

Justice minister wants consensus with Socialists over plan to select a number of neutral judges for CGPJ panel

Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón will try to seek consensus with the main opposition Socialist Party in an attempt to depoliticize the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ), the country's legal watchdog, and reduce the salaries of its members.

According to a draft of the bill obtained by EL PAÍS, Congress and the Senate will continue to elect the 20 CGPJ members, as they do now, but they will have to select at least 10 from judges who have more than 15 years of experience and are not linked to any political party.

Along with the panel's president, who will continue to be elected by the council, only five CGPJ members will receive salaries for their full-time work. The 15 others will receive per diems for each time the CGPJ panel meets or they participate in other official activities.

The CGPJ was caught up in a scandal earlier this year when its president, Carlos Dívar, was forced to resign after it was discovered that he had charged close to 30,000 euros to the judiciary for personal trips he took to Marbella and other Spanish resorts.

Ruiz-Gallardón originally proposed that 12 CGPJ members be elected by the nation's 4,225 judges but the Socialists objected to that proposal. The Socialists, however, agreed to come up with reforms to the panel but backed down when a dispute broke out over the justice minister's recent plan to introduce court filing fees for citizens.

The CGPJ's current term is up in June so the Popular Party government wants to introduce the new law ordering the council's restructuring before then, administration sources said.

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