ADC organizes debate to full house on Council of the Magistracy with leading experts
On Thursday, August 18, the Association for Civil Rights (ADC) held an event called “Beyond institutional balance: (Re)thinking the Council of the Magistracy,” in the Picasso Room of the Intercontinental Hotel, to discuss the problems encountered in the process of reshaping, enhancing and giving transparency to the mentioned judicial body.
The conversatory was presented by ADC executive director, Valeria Milanes and moderated by our head of Strategic Litigation, Alejandro Segarra. Panelists speaking were Andrea Castagnola (Ph.D. in Political Science and Judicial
Policy researcher), Sebastián Guidi (lawyer, LLM and Juris Doctor), and Lorena González Tocci (constitutional lawyer and founder of the Constitutional Studies Civil Association).
After giving a general review of ADC’s activity in the study and formulation of contributions to the Council of the Magistracy and its procedures, Segarra introduced the specialist panel and opened the discussion, where the main
challenges and obstacles faced by the Council in its performance were considered.
Challenges and obstacles
The first to speak was Political scientist Andrea Castagnola, who affirmed that “creating a Council of the Magistracy is a challenge in itself, as it is a political institution, with a political role, key to the political-partisan system… this is not only a problem in Argentina but all over the region: the magistracy councils throughout Latin America run into the same questions.”
Next, attorney Sebastián Guidi defined the Council as “an impossible body, difficult to grasp, attempting a perpetual compromise between two principles that cannot be fulfilled at once: judicial independence, on one hand, namely, the
judge in an ivory tower, secluded from all pressures; and on the other, the need for magistrates who are sensitive to citizen demands.” “We complain that justices are conditioned by disciplinary measures and, at the same time, that
they are immune and go unpunished,” he remarked. To sum up his proposal,
Guidi considered that “not until we settle the role of the judiciary in its concept and in the public debate, and define how sensitive to citizen demands versus how independent judges should be, will we be able to explore solutions to the
immediate problems we are confronting”.
For her part, attorney Lorena González Tocci welcomed ADC’s persistence in dealing with the issue and enumerated six obstacles met by the Council of the Magistracy: the selection process for judges, the judicial college, disciplinary procedures, the exclusive dedication of its members, equality and gender- balanced representation, and finally, instances of citizen participation, which are currently non-existent. “The most obvious of all these barriers is the selection process, given that the Council cannot function properly when competitions last a very long time or when there is much room for discretion as to judges who obtain seats without contesting,” concluded González Tucci.
Improvements to the Council’s functioning.
In the second part of the discussion, the specialist panel spoke on the most relevant changes that should be implemented to improve the Council’s proceedings.
Castañola argued that stability in the rules governing the formation of the body over time will give rise to the cooperation needed for a design that ensures better performance of the Judiciary and more specifically, of the Council.
In addition, she proposed “to strengthen the Bureau of Justice Statistics and incorporate ordinary citizens who can guarantee transparency and accountability, in a context where official stats related to the judiciary have not
been published for a decade.
Likewise, Guidi remarked that “As a condition to any reform of the Council, whether mild or thorough, one of its requirements is to make it a reliable institution, with rules that withstand the test of time”.
López Tocci, in turn, agreed with Castagnola on the importance of cooperation to improve the Council’s functioning and the need to have updated judicial information. She also focused on the selection process, stating that “it cannot be denied that we need a system with due competition to cover vacancies, because the way we have been malfunctioning so far is insane”.
Finally, after a Q&A session, ADC’s president Hernán Gullco thanked the panel and the public – comprised of civil society reps and members of academia, the judiciary, legislators, and the press – for their participation and gave way to the closing cocktail of the event.