Judicial reform: the task ahead

13 December 2015

Without exception, the presidential candidates who lined up last week to unveil their programmes at CADE underlined the need for a through-going judicial reform. They were less forthcoming about how this is to be achieved.

Their concern coincides with the publication of a new report on the state of the judiciary. ‘La justicia en el Perú: cinco grandes problemas’ details the extent to which judicial decision-making is delayed because of institutional bottlenecks: the number of unresolved cases stands at over 3 million, with the backlog increasing at the rate of 200,000 a year. The judicial branch continues to be chronically under-funded, while problems arising from recurrent strikes by judicial workers exacerbate the problem of delays. http://larepublica.pe/impresa/editorial/724508-tardia-justicia

The problem of delays in the administration of justice evidently is, in itself, a source of injustice. Just ask those who are in jail for years (often in infra-human conditions with chronic overcrowding) just waiting for their cases to be heard.

But the problems of the judicial system also involve the corruption of judges, as well as officials in the public prosecution system (Ministerio Público). Several scandals that have emerged in recent years have served to highlight the extent of the problem. Judges are easily bought, not least by those with deep pockets (like the burgeoning drug trafficking community) who seek to evade all attempts to bring them to book.

There is also the issue of political influence in judicial decisions in those cases where politicians are accused of corruption but manage, sometimes repeatedly, to get off the hook.

The scale of public distrust in the judicial system was once again made clear this week in opinion polls conducted by Ipsos for the NGO Proética. When asked what they think about the judicial branch 42% considers that it works poorly and 19% very poorly. Only 9% say it works well. This negative assessment stands side by side with similar evaluations of other institutions, such as the Congress, political parties and the police.

The urgency to take steps to remedy the problems in the judicial system is now pressing, although reforms will probably have to wait until a new president takes office next July. Much will depend on who that person is.

The last time that proposals were made for judicial reform was in a 2004 report written by a specially-appointed commission (Ceriajus). Its recommendations were blithely ignored by the judicial branch under the argument that the separation of powers means that only the judiciary can put its own house in order.

Powerful elements within the judiciary remain opposed to reform. But the existing system appears close to breaking point.

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