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August 23, 2014
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‘We failed to explain the judicial reform’

María Laura Garrigós de Rébori talks to the Herald in a courtroom.
By Luciana Bertoia
Herald Staff
Head of Legitimate Justice group, Judge Garrigós de Rébori talks to the Herald

María Laura Garrigós de Rébori is the most well-known promoter of the judicial reform propelled by the Kirchnerite administration and then quashed by the Supreme Court. Head of the pro-reform association Legitimate Justice, the judge who last year was appointed at the recently-created Criminal Cassation Court, which will be the City’s main criminal tribunal, welcomed the Herald at her office facing the Colón Theatre to discuss failures in the so-called “judicial democratization” package and she also made reference to the impeachment that suspended prosecutor José María Campagnoli is undergoing.

Why has the new Cassation Court not been created?

We are ten judges appointed for a court that does not exist. If it is created as ordered by a 2008 law and after having passed our competitive exams, we would not be more than 50 people and that would certainly not lead the country to bankruptcy. The court would take charge of 40 percent of the cases that are currently under the Federal Cassation Court’s supervision, thus they would have more resources to devote to the issues they have to discuss, such as crimes against humanity, trafficking, money-laundering, corruption. Maybe that explains the reluctance to put the court into effect.

So would you say this reluctance is due to a corporative claim?

No. I think they are not interested in letting the Federal Cassation Court devote its time to the issues it has to rule on. There is a four-year delay in that tribunal.

Who do you make responsible for this situation? The Magistrates Council or the Supreme Court, which says that you cannot be sworn-in as there is no building for the new court to be located...

The Court says that we should find a building. I am not an architect, I’m a lawyer and I won the contest exam. The Court should have required the Magistrates Council to do this. Justice Minister Julio Alak gave a solution. There is a building located on 612 Tal-cahuano street, which was formerly used by the Public Defender’s Office. We informed the Court and the Council about this but they never contacted us again.

How is your relation with the Supreme Court justices after they quashed the so-called judicial reform package?

I am in good terms with the Court. I don’t think we are the reason for this delay.

Radical lawmakers and the opposition media accuse you and the other judges of comprising the Kirchnerite Cassation Court.

That’s not true. The majority of the judges are not members of Legitimate Justice.

You were one of the main defenders of the judicial reform package, but you said that at first you did not like judges being included in the party’s ballot lists to obtain a seat at the Magistrates Council. Why did you change your mind?

There is a law that prevents judges from taking part in political groups. First we thought that we judges were going to join the parties each liked but then we realized that parties were the ones that would try to contact good judges to include them in their ballot lists.

Nowadays the case of suspended prosecutor José María Campagnoli also combines the judiciary with politics. Don’t you agree?

He would not be a good candidate. Attacking a democratic institution such as the impeachment tribunal is extremely serious. This is an attack on democracy as all of us have chosen these institutions to make officials accountable. Refusing to be democratically controlled is serious. I don’t think Campagnoli is a political leader that deserves such campaign. There must be something else behind it.

Last year, the Magistrates Association issued a press release in favour of Campagnoli despite him being suspended. Is that what they usually do?

They say so. There is a conservative group of prosecutors within the association who propelled the communiqué. I don’t think all the magistrates agree with it. His suspension — which is totally lawful —was decided by a group of prosecutors. Leaving such a criticized official in his post is a risk.

Do you think the reform of the Codes is going to move forward this year?

If they are not passed this year, that will be a lost struggle. At the beginning of the year, the Criminal Procedural Code was moving forward but nothing else happened. The discussion over the Penal Code is paralyzed. If the government succeeds in its negotiations with vulture funds and some other issues, maybe the discussion can be reignited. If not, the ruling party will not be willing to pay the political cost, given that next year elections will be held.

Do you agree with María Elena Barbagelata, one of the members of the Penal Code drafting commission, that abortion should have been included in the draft?

I am a feminist supporter and recently I have signed a petition supporting nonpunishable abortion, mainly to prevent more low-income women from dying, but I think abortion was beyond discussion.

In 2006, the draft to overhaul the Code failed mainly due to abortion, now mainly due to Sergio Massa’s opposition.

Massa’s attitude was terrible. But we still think that a political alliance can reignite the discussion or that some day the draft will be retaken. Society has to understand that it generates crimes. If there weren’t such a big social gap, violence would be lesser. The criminal system needs to be overhauled.

Do you think the judiciary still has a sexist leaning?

Of course. Fifty-four percent of the members of the judiciary are women, 62 percent of Law students as well. But the top positions are given to men. In the future Cassation Court, nine men have been appointed and I am the only woman. The glass ceiling is still there.

Do you think trials for crimes against humanity changed the Argentine judiciary?

Yes.

And did they affect the judges personally?

Yes. When witnesses appeared in court, we were able to know the victims. They were not names any longer. We knew about their ideas and dreams. Activism has been vindicated by youth and that’s one of the most positive aspects of the last ten years. Democracy needs activism.

Have you ever been an activist?

At school. Then the dictatorship came.

Your father-in-law was then forcibly disappeared. Were you in touch with human rights organizations?

No. We just managed to survive. My husband’s father, uncle and aunt were abducted while his siblings were still schoolgirls. We were not able to leave the country as we could not afford it. We only devoted our days to work. I was a judicial employee then but I was not able to speak about it at the courthouse. We never learnt where they were held.

A month ago, Supreme Court Chief Justice Ricardo Lorenzetti made it clear that trials will not finish next year. Do you think there is a chance to put an end to these proceedings?

No. Civilians who cooperated with the military or business people who benefited from forced disappearances have not faced court thus far.

Do you think a wrong communicational strategy was followed with the judicial reform package?

I’m not an expert but the results achieved make it clear that it was not well communicated, maybe as it happened with the Penal Code reform. Maybe they use media in a more effective way.

The Broadcasting Media Law was treated in a different way and also took a longer process involving social organizations.

The judicial reform was not so complex. The Magistrates Council reform can be seen as debatable. I had some doubts but after studying how the system to elect members of the Council worked in other countries I saw the proposal as a great chance. But it would have been better to postpone that law and not to use it as a scapegoat. But I think the judiciary would have resisted to any of the changes. Judges forget that their role has to be controlled. Nowadays, the Court wants to show that they are controlled by the National General Audit (AGN) but what they do not say is that they allow that control because it is an opposition agency.

But at least it is a form of accountability, isn’t it?

Yes, but it also helps an opposition-run agency to increase its power.

@LucianaBertoia
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