The General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ) is the most important institution of the third government of the state. A constitutional body created to ensure the independence of more than 5,000 judges and magistrates and to make the most appropriate decisions on appointments, promotions or disciplinary regimes. But for four years it has also been an institution subject to an unprecedented state of paralysis in democracy. This blockade is the result of the partisan calculations of the People’s Party, whose leaders have used a battery of shifting justifications to prevent its renewal and to lose power in one of the state’s key institutions.
The CGPJ will cross the 4-year term of office this week in a completely uncertain situation: with a “replacement” of the president elected after the resignation of Carlos Lesmes, a reduced plenary session (18 of its original 21 members) and certain powers that are also limited. From March 2021, it will be barred from carrying out its main function: making appointments to the judicial leadership, which has led to the threat of the Supreme Court collapsing as vacancies cannot be filled.
Meanwhile, a group of members, those closest to the People’s Party, formed a kind of opposition to the government from within the body. Eight out of ten of the conservative sector are judges and lawyers, who at the slightest opportunity clash with the executive to prevent the renewal of the Constitutional Court, which is the main mission that this body now has. In this way, the conservative majority of the court, which will have to make decisions on such sensitive issues as education reform, abortion or euthanasia, will be extended. There are those in the minority progressive group who believe that conservative councilors will continue to renew the constitutional blockade, a strategy that mirrors the one Genoa maintains with the CGPJ.
The current governing body of judges has ten members elected on the proposal of the PP, six from the PSOE, one from the IU and one from the PNV. Vacancies could not be filled due to the retirement of conservative Rafael Valverde and the death of progressive Victoria Cinto. Neither did Lesmes, who stepped down on October 9 after nearly four years at the helm of the institution with an overdue mandate. It was the first time in history that an institutional deadlock forced the resignation of a state’s first judiciary. Lesmes, who held a senior position in the governments of José María Aznár, resigned and shared the blame equally between the PSOE and the PP. He reprimanded both sides for “repeated indifference” to his calls to tackle a situation that “weakens and destroys key institutions of justice and the rule of law”.
Thus, the CGPJ continued to operate with a conservative majority, inherited from the last legislature of Mariano Rajoy, and this has nothing to do with the parliamentary reality now drawn by the polls. In fact, four general elections have been held since his election in December 2013.
The conservatives, who left Moncloa in June 2018 following a vote of no confidence in Pedro Sánchez, have for the past four years resisted renewal, which must be approved by a strengthened three-fifths majority of members of the common courts. . On the one hand, by maintaining the majority in the body that continued to appoint judicial leadership for two and a half years, despite the expiration of its mandate. On the other hand, given the expectation that an agreement with the PSOE could hurt them electorally against Vox.
To do so, they used a changing and growing battery of justifications, ranging from vetoing the existence of Unidas Podemos in negotiations, to EH Bildu’s budgets, or the government’s position as a minority partner against the monarchy. The last failed update attempt was just a few weeks ago at the end of October. But the PP unilaterally broke off the talks after the sedition crime reform was outlined.
They also demanded that the electoral system be changed so that the 12 members of the court are directly elected by the judges, as was the case until 1985. Currently, the judges check the names and then the parties choose, provided they achieve this majority. Congress. This is a reform that the PP did not promote in its two absolute majorities. Furthermore, the current formula for parliamentary elections is ratified in a 2001 pact with the PSOE, which refuses to accept this reform.
After the restoration of democracy, the PP’s three blockades of the renewal of the CGPJ – between 1995 and 1996, between 2006 and 2008 and the present – have served to give it the right to decide the majority of judicial appointments in the Supreme Court. Court. José María Aznar, Mariano Rajoy, Pablo Casado and now Alberto Núñez Feijo participated in this slow process, and it means that the Criminal Chamber went from being formed by seven progressive judges and six conservatives in 1995 to 12 conservatives against four progressives in 2022. . This is the room that finally hears most of the criminal cases that are tried in Spain and that corruption cases go through.
There is no sign of resignation
Both the government and the CGPJ are confident that there will be no renewal before the general elections and the re-formation of the chambers scheduled for the end of next year. Resignations requested by sectors of the judicial system, such as the progressive association “Judges and Judges for Democracy”, have also had no response among members, and individual resignations are not expected in the short term. After the resignation of Lesmes, the members of the body made it clear at the plenary session that they wanted nothing to change in the institution. In a statement, they said they would continue to operate “as normal” and exercise “every authority the legal system gives them.”
A plenary session in December 2020 discussed without success the possibility of the resignation of members who support the government in relation to the reform, which ultimately stripped the powers of the CGPJ while it was functioning. . Then, progressive member Alvaro Cuesta proposed a resolution for all members to announce their “resignations” as of January 1, when two years have passed since their mandate expired. However, this initiative was supported by only four other members of the progressive sector – Clara Martínez de Carreaga, Rafael Mozzo, Concepcion Sáez and Pilar Sepúlveda – and it was never implemented as a concrete initiative.
With an annual budget of 76 million euros, the CGPJ offers the highest salary in the administration. President and six members with exclusive dedication Earn more than 120,000 euros per year – to which must be added a three-year term or seniority extension – and they have a company car and secretarial staff at their disposal. The rest of the members are only part-time, without exclusive commitment, with low salaries. These members receive an allowance of EUR 975 and EUR 312 respectively for attending plenary sessions or the committees they are part of. During 2021, CGPJ members without exclusive allegiance received a total of 278,694 gross euros, an average of 21,000 gross euros per year.
the state of the supreme
The serious anomaly that the constitutional body’s four-year mandate has expired is compounded by the paralysis that this situation causes in various areas of justice. Especially in the Supreme Court, where vacancies will increase to 20 in the coming months, accounting for 25% of its judges. For example, on December 21, the Justice Chamber of the Central Military Court will cease to function because it will run out of members of the military legal corps. These positions cannot be held because, from March 2021, the law prevents the CGPJ from being appointed to judicial leadership while in office, as it is now.
Before that, the expired body and the correlation of forces, which has nothing to do with today’s parliamentary reality, had made 74 appointments to key positions. The reform governing the interim CGPJ has been one of the biggest disagreements between the two powers of the state. Government partners defended the need to end the legal vacuum, as until then the only competence that the incumbent CGPJ could not exercise was the appointment of a new president. But behind his approval was also an attempt to increase pressure on the PP to agree to renew the body after several failed attempts. This was not possible either.
Now the CGPJ is studying what options there are to strengthen the Supreme Court in the current situation. The solution, which is now considered more “effective” and “credible”, is to strengthen the technical cabinet with magistrates from other courts. This body assists judges in receiving cases and cooperates with requested studies and reports. Some sources believe that another option is considered “extreme and difficult”: the appointment of judges on secondment. For example, from the national court. While there is some precedent, that means having a group of judges in this administrative situation is in a higher category than what they actually hold, which can be “problematic,” they said. The majority is not convinced of the use of retired judges either. Sources consulted explain that this requires legal reform, as the figure of the emeritus magistrate was abolished by the PP in 2015.
Source: El Diario