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Published: 11 May 2016

Surrey Research Student authors Ibahri thematic paper on judicial independence and accountability in Latin America

The paper by Jessica Walsh, PhD Student and Associate Lecturer at Surrey’s School of Law, was launched in São Paulo, Brazil, at the Rule of Law Exchange’s Annual Conference organised by the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, the Fundação Getulio Vargas, and international law firm Jones Day.

The conference, entitled ‘Rule of Law Challenges in Latin America: Corruption and Judicial Independence’ took place on the 18 and 19 of April 2016, one day after the Brazilian lower house of Congress voted for the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff.  The first lecture was given by Fernando Henrique Cardoso (former President of Brazil), who gave a hopeful outlook on rule of law in Brazil as well as sharing his experience as one of the drafters of the 1988 Brazilian Constitution. He was followed by many other distinguished speakers including Gilmar Mendes (a justice of Brazil's Supreme Court who recently blocked former president Lula da Silva’s appointment to cabinet), two of Brazil's former Ministers of Justice (Tarso Genro and Dr José Gregori), Brazil's current National Secretary for Justice (Beto Vasconcelos), former President of Bolivia (Carlos Mesa), Brazil's bureau chief for the Financial Times (Joe Leahy), and a Harvard Scholar at Risk and former Judge of Guatemala (Dr Claudia Escobar).

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Fernando Henrique Cardoso (former President of Brazil)
Photo credit: Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law

Participating in a panel on Judicial Independence and Accountability, Jessica Walsh (PhD Candidate and Associate Lecturer at Surrey’s School of Law), launched a paper that she had been commissioned to write by the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute. 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. 

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Gilmar Mendes (a justice of Brazil's Supreme Court)
Photo credit: Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law

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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