Tuesday, February 27

Lesmes threatens to resign “in weeks” if the Judiciary is not renewed

The president of the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ) has threatened to present his resignation “in weeks” if the governing body of the judges, who is heading towards four years with the mandate expired, is not renewed. In a huddle with journalists at the solemn act of Opening of the Judicial Year, Carlos Lesmes has clarified that his idea is to leave the negotiations for the renewal of the Constitutional Court completed or, at least on track, and then leave if the blockade continues in the institution he has chaired since 2013.

Lesmes warns of the “unsustainable” situation of the Judiciary and affirms that he has “no hope” in its renewal

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Previously, during his speech he had reprimanded the political forces for the situation of paralysis in which the CGPJ finds itself. Lesmes has asked the President of the Government, Pedro Sánchez, and the leader of the PP, Alberto Nuñez Feijóo – present at the Palace of Justice – to meet “urgently” to agree on the renewal “in the coming weeks” and put an end to a situation that he has described as “unsustainable” and “unacceptable”. He has asked that the renewal be agreed and that, if it is not done, the powers of the CGPJ be restored. That is, that he be allowed to continue making key appointments at the top of the main courts. “A duty that stems from the Constitution cannot be subordinated to reasons of political opportunity,” he added.

If neither of the two things happen, he has opened the door to present his resignation, a movement that he had anticipated in a veiled way in his speech before King Felipe VI, the deputy prosecutor of the Supreme Court, the Minister of Justice and the Chamber of Supreme Government. In that intervention she has said that the collective resignation that sectors of the judiciary have requested as a way to facilitate the renewal would be “irresponsible” and “unacceptable”. However, she has described individual resignations as “admissible”, while she has assured that if her call is not heeded, it would be necessary to “reflect on the adoption of other types of decisions” that she neither wants nor likes.

It was the first time that he has spoken in these terms in a speech and that he has publicly valued his resignation as “a possible option”, as he stressed to journalists during the huddles after the solemn ceremony. The act held this Wednesday at the headquarters of the Supreme Court has taken place at a time when the talks between the parties to renew the CGPJ seem to be in deadlock, which is also experiencing moments of maximum tension. This Thursday the plenary session is scheduled to be held in which the members should elect the two magistrates of the Constitutional Court that they are responsible for appointing, although these designations will not foreseeably take place due to the boycott of the conservative members.

Joint renewal

In conversation with the journalists after the speech, Feijóo has commented that he is willing to hold a meeting with Pedro Sánchez when he calls him, but that he will only sit down if the conditions set by the PP are accepted. The Minister of Justice, Pilar Llop, has urged him to put the names tomorrow to renew the CGPJ, but to “do it without conditions”. Both have spoken informally in a huddle that has also been joined by President Lesmes and King Felipe VI.

On the other hand, the Minister of Social Rights, Ione Belarra, has reacted, who has assured that the non-renewal of the CGPJ is not due to an institutional crisis or lack of understanding, but because “the PP refuses”.

Already in the afternoon, the PP has distinguished itself with a statement in which it gives another twist to the blockade to which the judicial bodies are subjected and demands to participate in the appointment of four magistrates of the court of guarantees that correspond expressly to the Government and to the CGPJ itself, informs Aitor Riveiro.

“The PP has the maximum willingness to sit down with the Government, address the reform of the Judicial Power and, under minimum requirements of independence, the joint renewal of the Constitutional Court and the CGPJ”, Feijóo’s party assured in a statement sent to the media after the threat of resignation of Lesmes if the conservative members of the governing body of the judges make effective the boycott of the meeting that this Thursday should serve for the CGPJ to appoint the two new members of the Constitutional that correspond to it.

The Government, for its part, has denounced this Wednesday that the PP “is once again involved in excuses for not complying with the constitutional mandate to renew the CGPJ in a timely manner” for adding “one more pretext to its delaying maneuvers” by stopping said renewal. “Once again it is confirmed that, before the Constitution there are only two attitudes, to comply with it in all its points, as the Government defends, or to interpret it at convenience and obstruct its compliance, as the PP insists on doing,” sources from the Executive have explained. “The Government has always had and continues to have the availability to renew the CGPJ under the current law and under the constitutional mandate. It can be done today”, settle the Moncloa sources.

“Spoil” in Justice

The blockade on the renewal of the CGPJ has been maintained since 2018 due to the lack of political agreement for the renewal of its twenty members, which has to be agreed by a three-fifths majority of the members of the Cortes Generales. The Popular Party has resisted during all this time to lose its power in one of the key institutions of the State, the one that decides which judges ascend to the highest positions of the judiciary. The current governing body of the judges has ten members elected at the proposal of the PP, six from the PSOE, one from the IU and another from the PNV. At the head is Lesmes, who was a high position in the governments of José María Aznar. In the last year it has lost two of its members, Rafael Fernández Valverde, who has retired; and Victoria Cinto, who passed away last June. Neither of them could be replaced.

In his speech, Lesmes has warned of the consequences that the blockade on the renewal of the CGPJ and the reform that prevents appointments in the judicial leadership with the expired mandate, approved in March 2021, is having for the judicial system. Lesmes has had a special impact in the situation in the Supreme Court, which has lost more than a dozen judges due to retirements and deaths without being able to fill those vacancies. It is, he has asserted, a “limit” situation that in a few months would be “unsustainable”.

Until the approval of this norm, the CGPJ had made 74 appointments in the main courts, 21 of them in the Supreme Court, where they are considered especially sensitive because those positions, unless resigned, are kept until retirement, set for judges and magistrates to the 72 years. This norm was promoted by PSOE and United We Can and had broad parliamentary support.

In the opinion of the president of the CGPJ, however, this rule has had “devastating” effects and has ensured that only in the Supreme Court there are 14 unfilled vacancies out of a plant of 79 magistrates. “The mess is so great that a similar situation had not occurred at the top of the Spanish Justice in the entire history of our democracy,” he insisted.

Lesmes has also been in favor of a change in the current system of electing members, in which the judges screen fifty names and then the parties choose as long as they reach that majority in the Chambers. It is, in his opinion, a model installed in “a crisis that is difficult to overcome” and that must be reformed “unavoidably” with “the greatest possible urgency.” However, he has requested that this hypothetical reform be carried out once the current CGPJ is renewed.

“Autonomy and transparency”

The State Attorney General, Álvaro García Ortiz, has tested positive for COVID and has not been able to attend the event, in which the institution’s annual report is presented. His speech was read, on his behalf, by the deputy prosecutor of the Supreme Court, María Ángeles Sánchez Conde. Before the authorities present, Sánchez Conde called for a reform of the Organic Statute of the Public Prosecutor, the law that regulates the structure and functioning of the Public Ministry, to achieve greater levels of autonomy in the “budgetary, organizational, regulatory and training” areas. However, as long as this reform is not a reality, it has promised to promote “partial modifications” aimed at “conquering greater areas of autonomy and transparency.”

The prosecutor has extolled the importance of making a “team” so that the Public Ministry reaches the highest levels of “efficiency and public utility” and has reiterated that the “victims” are the “priority”. “They must be protected and defended. Her testimony – on many occasions essential for the prosecution of the crime – should not mean a burden, a violent or heartbreaking element”, she has asserted. Part of her speech has been focused on the proceedings on hate crimes, which during the last year have increased by 27%. In this regard, she has warned of the creation of a “climate of hostility” towards certain groups that favors the execution of violent actions. “The accumulated experience (…) allows us to verify that” the word precedes the action “, she has affirmed.