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Published: 17 June 2016

Judicial independence and Latin America

Judicial independence and accountability in Latin America were brought into sharp focus by Surrey researcher Jessica Walsh at the recent Rule of Law Exchange’s annual conference in Brazil.

Participating in a panel on Judicial Independence and Accountability, Jessica launched a paper that she had been commissioned to write by the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI).

The paper, entitled A Double-Edged Sword: Judicial Independence and Accountability in Latin America, draws attention to a worrying trend across Latin America of political interference in the judiciary. In particular, the paper looks at ways in which governments abuse disciplinary proceedings in order to threaten, intimidate, or remove judges from office.

Across Latin America this pressure ranges from politicisation in the form of discrediting and sanctioning judges, to severe human rights abuses involving the torture, rape, and murder of judges. The paper, however, recognises the complexities of the relationship between the executive and the judiciary and points out that where disciplinary proceedings are abused, it is not only judicial independence that suffers, but judicial accountability as well. In light of a severe lack of public trust in judiciaries across the Latin American continent, the paper therefore highlights a double need for better functioning judicial accountability in Latin America.

The paper ties into the doctoral research that Jessica is doing on judicial disciplinary systems in Argentina. Her research involved going out to Argentina to conduct 36 interviews with judges who has been accused of corruption and removed, members of judicial councils, impeachment tribunals, and legislative impeachment committees, and lawyers and members of NGOs that had filed complaints against judges.

Her thesis will help to provide a more detailed insight into the problems highlighted by the thematic paper. The IBAHRI paper will also be published in Spanish later this year.

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