On 6 January, five of the seven members of the newly created National Judicial Board (Junta Nacional Judicial, JNJ) were formally sworn in to take up their functions, following their election on 30 December. The other two were suspended following allegations of links to organised corruption and other misdemeanours, although one was eventually also sworn in too.
The JNJ is a significant advance in cleaning up the Peruvian judicial system. It is responsible for the appointment and dismissal of judges and public prosecutors. As such it is the key actor in any attempt to attack the networks of corruption and influence pedalling that have long afflicted the Peruvian judiciary. The JNJ also plays a role in appointments to bodies such as the ONPE, the organisation responsible for running elections.
The JNJ replaces the discredited National Magistrates Council (Consejo Nacional de la Magistratura, CNM). Those initially sworn in include (in order of the points they scored for merit) Aldo Vásquez, Henry José Avila Herrera, Luz Inés Tello, Imelda Tumialán, and Antonio Humberto de la Haza. María Zavala, a former justice minister under Alan García’s second government, was eventually sworn in on 9 January.
Marco Tulio Falconí has yet to be sworn in. Both he and Zavala appear to have had close ties to César Hinostroza, the Supreme Court judge involved in the ‘Cuellos Blancos del Puerto’ corruption scandal in Callao. Hinostroza, who fled to Spain to avoid arrest, awaits possible extradition to Peru. The election of the new JNJ thus appears to have been tainted by some with suspected links to past corruption cases.
The special committee selected to make the appointments included Walter Gutiérrez (the ombudsman, also president of the group), José Lecaros (president of the judicial branch), Ernesto Blume (president of the Constitutional Tribunal), Nelson Shack (comptroller), and two university rectors – one from the National Engineering University (UNI) and one from the University of Piura. Gutiérrez has in the past been criticised for his ties to the fujimorista cause.
In response to the JNJ election, Walter Albán, the former ombudsman who heads Proética, remarked “here we have light and shade”, pointing to the polemical antecedents of some of those chosen. He was critical of the lack of transparency of the procedures by which they were selected. Ernesto de la Jara, from the Instituto de Defensa Legal (IDL) commented that “almost all are former judges, former public prosecutors, former officials, in other words they reflect the realities we need to change …. I believe we are far from what we had [originally] proposed”.
Zoraida Avalos, the chief public prosecutor, criticised the way in which Falconí had been selected. He managed to qualify after his graduation from the military academy was taken into account. According to Avalos, Falconí was only a reservist and never saw active service. As such it is doubtful whether his military status should have been taken into account in assessing his merits as a proposed candidate. As well as having close ties to Hinostroza, Falconí also stands accused of plagiarising in his doctoral thesis.
On 5 January, Marianella Ledesma, the new head of the Constitutional Tribunal, added her voice to those criticising the lack of transparency in the whole process. She had argued that the swearing in of all the members of the JNJ should have been postponed.
Ledesma had argued that all the appointments should have been frozen until such time that the methods used to evaluate candidates had been publicly disclosed.