August 1, 2014
Legal reform for 2014
Rightly or wrongly, the government’s judicial reform package last year was rapidly interpreted as a prelude to President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s presumed drive for a third term and thus any debate over its technical merits was immediately overtaken in an election year by political strife. But now that the third CFK term is no longer the remotest possibility for even the most ultra-Kirchnerite, might it not be time to start asking ourselves if the need for judicial reform is not as urgent now as then, especially when looking at some of the headlines in midweek newspaper editions?
These headlines tend to have the common denominator of showing the judicial system to be dysfunctional in some way. Thus two of the most emblematic ongoing cases seem stalled by hitches this week, not for the first time. In the court action involving Vice-President Amado Boudou, his main associate limited his testimony to a brief written statement and refused to answer Judge Ariel Lijo’s questions while another key witness is reportedly planning to ignore his summons for today altogether and may have to be forced to appear in court — Boudou himself will be out of the country this week and thus unavailable. Meanwhile the climax of prosecutor José MaríaCampagnoli’s impeachment expected for this week has been postponed due to a juror’s stress. At the top of the system the Supreme Court’s main statement this week has been to rule that there should be ‘decent‘ service on the Sarmiento suburban railway line, something which should be self-evident — behind the scenes, however, their concerns are less abstract because they are pushing for funds to pay judicial salary increases.
Looking at all this, it seems difficult to resist the conclusion that huge wastes of time are a central part of the judicial system. It would be unfair to argue that playing for time is uniquely a feature of that system (just look at Argentine strategy in the New York courts or at some World Cup matches for that matter) but it seems very much the name of the game. The transitional work ahead of the outgoing CFK administration is generally seen as almost exclusively economic but now that any suspicion of personal ambition has been banished (and also to disprove that there is only interest in court overhaul when there is a political agenda to serve), might not a judicial reform based on much more nationwide debate and consensus than last year’s hastily improvised, flawed and often self-seeking effort mark a fitting heritage for a government which wants to leave its place in history?