A body with the mandate expired for more than a thousand days, with a conservative majority that has nothing to do with the current parliamentary reality and that, by law, must limit itself to performing those functions that are necessary to guarantee its operation but that do not involve an “interference” in the powers of the incoming mandate. This is how the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ) is led by Carlos Lesmes, who on Monday did not allude in his speech at the opening ceremony of the Judicial Year to the possibility of submitting his resignation as a way to force renewal – as they come claiming sectors of the judiciary – and that he discharged the responsibility for the blockade on the Government and the PP, from whom he asked “constitutional patriotism” and “generosity.”
One thousand days of blockade in the Judicial Power by decision of the PP
The CGPJ, with an annual budget of 73 million euros –according to the latest accounts in force, from 2021-, offers some of the highest salaries in the Administration. Its president, who is also the president of the Supreme Court, will receive this year 142,510.96 euros gross, to which must be added the trienniums. They are just over 7,000 euros net per month. It is also 40% more than what the chief executive or vice presidents of the Government receive and it is only below what the president of the Constitutional Court charges.
The seven members who have exclusive dedication due to their membership of the so-called Permanent Commission also earn higher salaries than members of the Government. In your case, this remuneration is 122,908.38 euros gross per year, to which must be added the trienniums or the seniority supplement. This presidential model has been in force since 2013, when a reform promoted by the former Minister of Justice Alberto Ruiz Gallardón and approved alone by the PP established a system in which Lesmes has the power to propose to the members of this Permanent Commission, a kind It has a hard core that brings together almost all power and has many decisions in its hands on important issues that were previously debated in plenary session.
Its members are appointed annually by the plenary session and four belong to the judicial turn and three to the jurists. Currently, the Conservatives also have a majority in this body that is presided over by Lesmes himself. There are four members elected at the proposal of the PP, Juan Martínez Moya, Juan Manuel Fernández, José Antonio Ballestero and Nuria Díaz; and three elected at the proposal of the PSOE, Rafael Mozo, Álvaro Cuesta and Pilar Sepúlveda. Like Lesmes, they all have at their disposal a state mobile park vehicle.
Being part of that smaller body, of only seven people out of twenty members plus the president established by the Constitution, has the advantage that only the members who are there receive a salary from the CGPJ and are released from their work in the judiciary or other branches of law. The rest of the members are only part-time, without exclusive dedication, with a lower salary.
These members receive allowances only for attending the plenary sessions or the committees of which they are part, established at 975 euros and 312 euros respectively. During 2020, the members of the CGPJ who do not have exclusive dedication received, in total, 260,442.00 gross euros, with an average of just over 18,000 gross euros per year.
In addition, all the members without exception have at their disposal a person who is in charge of the secretarial work and they are also paid per diem of up to 174 euros each time they make an official trip. In 2019, the CGPJ invested in official trips 336,750.71 euros, an amount that was reduced to 229,711.04 euros during 2020, when restrictions due to the pandemic limited mobility.
Likewise, the members of the governing body of the judges who have their family residence outside of Madrid have the right to be paid a round trip per week and holidays or vacation periods. On the official website of the CGPJ you can also consult the gifts received by Lesmes and that are deposited at its headquarters. Most are books, although there are also other more striking objects such as the carpet, the tray and the plate that he received in February 2020 from the host country of the VI Hispano-Moroccan Judicial Encounter, held in Marrakech.
Return to the collegiate spirit
This model that centralizes power in the figure of the president and a reduced group of members will cease to be in force in the next term by virtue of a 2018 reform that even had the vote in favor of the PP. When it is renewed, the CGPJ will return to its spirit as a collegiate body and the twenty members will be released, with a salary of 116,000 euros per year each. The Permanent Commission will continue to exist, but the president will no longer have the prerogative to propose its members and all the members will go through it for a year. In addition, all its decisions may be reviewed by the Plenary.
But that will be in the next term. Meanwhile, the institutional blockade to which the CGPJ is subjected has a direct effect on one of its essential functions: the decision of which judges are promoted to the highest positions in the judiciary. The Senate gave the final green light on March 24 to the reform that prevents the governing body of judges from making discretionary appointments with expired terms, as it has been doing since December 2018. Until the approval of that rule, it had made 74 appointments in the main courts, 21 of them in the Supreme Court, where they are considered especially sensitive because these positions, except for resignation, are maintained until retirement, set for judges and magistrates at 72 years of age.
This reform, which Lesmes said this Monday “has come to aggravate” the situation of the CGPJ, was promoted by PSOE and United We Can and had broad parliamentary support although PP, Vox and Ciudadanos were positioned against it. During his speech this Monday, Lesmes assured that the impossibility of making appointments “places the affected judicial bodies in a very difficult situation” and especially the Supreme Court, which currently has eleven unfilled vacancies out of a plant of 79 magistrates.
But the law passed last March is clear. When its mandate has expired, the governing body of the judges must limit itself to performing those functions that are necessary to ensure its operation but that do not involve “interference” in the powers of the incoming Council. Thus, the CGPJ maintains, for example, its powers in matters of disciplinary regime, provision of posts and regulated promotions or in the preparation of reports on legislative projects, but it cannot choose which magistrates have access to the heads of the main courts.