Thursday, December 8

The conservative blockade of the Judiciary forces the resignation of its president for the first time in history

Carlos Lesmes will present his resignation as president of the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ) on Monday, the institution reported in a statement made public late this Sunday. His resignation will also vacate the presidency of the Supreme Court. Lesmes will leave the positions that he has held since 2013 as a result of the blockade situation of the governing body of the judges, which is heading towards four years with the mandate expired. After the announcement, the President of the Government, Pedro Sánchez, has summoned the leader of the PP, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, to a meeting this Monday morning in Moncloa.

The blockade of the conservatives leads the Judiciary to a limit situation

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On September 7, in the solemn act of Opening of the Judicial Year, Lesmes said that he would resign “in weeks” if the blockade persisted and, since then, he has hoped that the parties would “make visible” a commitment to renew the body that was not has produced. After his resignation, he will join his destiny as a magistrate in the Contentious-Administrative Chamber of the Supreme Court.

In a statement, Lesmes affirms that he makes this decision at the end of this Sunday the term announced to the members in the plenary session on September 29 without the Government and the opposition having reached an agreement for the renewal of the body or for the “return of their competencies”. Lesmes had asked the parties to renew the body and, if not, to reverse the reform that since March 2021 has prevented the CGPJ from making key appointments at the top of the main courts when, as now, it has his term expired.

“With all hope of rectification lost and in the face of the patent deterioration of the Supreme Court and the General Council of the Judiciary, which I cannot avoid, my presence at the head of these institutions is no longer useful and would also be contrary to my own professional conscience, therefore that my resignation as president is imposed, since keeping me in this responsibility from now on can only serve to make me an accomplice in a situation that I abhor and that is unacceptable”, Lesmes maintains in the statement.

In that same statement, Lesmes reveals that in the “last days” —after the visit to Spain by the European Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders— he has been informed of the existence of “contacts” between political forces, although these conversations “do not They have given no positive result. “I adopt this decision out of respect for the dignity of the institutions that I preside over and also out of respect for the Spanish judges, who legitimately hope that whoever represents them does not remain impassive in the face of a situation that seriously compromises the prestige and functioning of the entire Justice,” he adds. in your statement.

The resignation announcement caught most of the members by surprise, who expected him to remain in office until next Thursday, when he had called an extraordinary plenary session to deal with the appointments of the Constitutional Court that the CGPJ should have made before September 13 and they are also still blocked. In fact, he had asked the negotiators of both blocs to inform him this Monday of who his candidate is. In recent weeks, Lesmes had stated in public and in private that his idea was to leave the Constitutional renewal settled or at least on track before leaving.

Lesmes launched the order of his resignation when he was living his lowest hours since occupying the first seat of Spanish justice. The beginning of the judicial course was complicated for him, who failed to convince the members to carry out the aforementioned Constitutional appointments on time. That blockade has been promoted by eight of the ten elected members at the proposal of the PP, who have used different subterfuges to delay these appointments.

With the departure of Lesmes all eyes now turn to the members. The possibility of a joint resignation seems ruled out for the moment, since a majority of directors rejects that the responsibility of unblocking the body be placed on their shoulders. In fact, in the speech in which he anticipated his resignation, Lesmes said that the collective resignation that sectors of the judiciary have requested as a way to facilitate the renewal would be “irresponsible” and “unacceptable.” And he described individual resignations as “admissible”.

The resignation of the first judicial authority of the State opens a scenario of uncertainty both in the CGPJ and in the Supreme Court, which will have its first milestone in who will be his replacement. Before leaving, Lesmes commissioned a report from the technical cabinet on the “possible replacement of him” given the circumstance that the body cannot elect a new president when in office. That document establishes that “automatically, without the need for any act or agreement” both positions should be occupied by Francisco Marín Castán, who is the oldest Chamber president of the Supreme Court and who has been interim vice president of the High Court since 2019.

However, a majority of members—both conservative and progressive—do not agree with this solution. They understand that there should be a bicephaly with Francisco Marín as president of the Supreme Court and Rafael Mozo as president of the CGPJ for being the oldest member. Mozo was chosen at the proposal of the PSOE. In any case, they defend that it is an issue that must be resolved in plenary.

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. 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.

During the last few months, Lesmes has warned in different forums 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. The last judicial opening had a special impact on the situation in the Supreme Court, which has 14 vacancies for judges unfilled due to retirements and deaths. It is, he said then, a “limit” situation that in a few months would be “unsustainable.”

Lesmes jumped from the Contentious-Administrative Chamber of the Supreme Court to the governing body of the 5,300 Spanish judges in December 2013, when the PP governed with an absolute majority. His proposal was a bet by the then Minister of Justice, Alberto Ruiz Gallardón, who had the endorsement of Mariano Rajoy. The PSOE, then directed by Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, agreed with his appointment.

Lesmes was a high position in the PP Government, in the Ministry of Justice, under the orders of all the ministers of the branch appointed by José María Aznar: Margarita Mariscal de Gante, Ángel Acebes and José María Michavila. In Aznar’s first legislature –between 1996 and 2000–, Lesmes was general director of Conscientious Objection. In the second, he was general director of Relations with the Administration of Justice, a key position in that ministry because he is the one who liaises between the Government and the judges.

After eight years in the Aznar government, Lesmes went to the National High Court, where the then CGPJ – conservative, appointed during Aznar’s absolute majority – promoted him to president of the Contentious-Administrative Chamber. He later jumped to the Supreme Court, to the Third Chamber, also with conservative support.