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Judicial power by shares

Carving up an institution by political quotas calls into question its independence

Madrid -

Divvying up the institutions into party shares does very little to build confidence in the independence of the judiciary, and instead helps increase skepticism with regard to politics. This is the risk run by the deputies and senators of the five groups (Popular Party, Socialist Party, United Left, and the nationalist parties CiU of Catalonia and PNV of the Basque Country) that voted in the new General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ), the country’s top legal watchdog. Without taking any merit away from many of the nominees, the fact that names were submitted on the basis of party quotas raises questions about the credibility of an agency tasked with governing the third branch of power.

Confusing the will of an institution such as parliament with the agreements reached by political parties, which are organizations of power players, is detrimental to the prestige of democracy. Party leaders tend to have a utilitarian view of justice and hold judicial independence in lower esteem. Certainly, the abundance of legal proceedings over cases of political corruption — Gürtel, Luis Bárcenas, the labor adjustment fund in Andalusia and others — suggested a need to reinforce the vitally important independence of the CGPJ, rather than underscore its political origin.

A priori, the legitimacy of the legal watchdog is without reproach: it emanates from parliament. But its freedom of action is being perverted by the procedure by which appointments take place, which does not ensure the independence of the appointees. As if that were not enough, the rules of the game have changed: from now on, 14 out of the 20 members of the CGPJ can reconcile their post with jurisdictional or professional work. This means it is not unlikely that some members of the CGPJ will be involved in proceedings of a political nature, or that they will have to intervene in the appointment of judges in charge of such proceedings.

Other than that, the appointments have ended with small party crises, such as the resignation as senator of Tomás Gómez, leader of the Madrid Socialists, and a global disqualification of the entire appointment process by the centrist party UPyD. But this time there were no delays of the kind that pushed new appointments back beyond their constitutional deadlines because of gridlock between the PP and the Socialists.

Ultimately, however, it is true that Spain has yet to successfully resolve the organization of an institution like the CGPJ, which should be above party interests. Everything now hinges on whether the new members allow themselves to be swayed, or whether they can prove to society that they are able to overcome the misgivings caused by their appointment

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