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Cablegate: Supreme Court Reform Clears Congress

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 QUITO 001186

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL EC
SUBJECT: SUPREME COURT REFORM CLEARS CONGRESS

1. Summary: On May 18, Congress approved most of the
President's partial veto to the reform governing the make-up
of the Supreme Court, overriding only the provision which
would have reduced the number of judges. Despite lingering
differences, Congressional approval clears the court reform
to move into its implementation phase, expected to take at
least three months. In the meantime, Ecuador lacks a high
court, constraining the administration of justice. End
Summary.

Gutierrez' Party Votes With Majority on Override
--------------------------------------------- ---

2. Former President Gutierrez' PSP party gave the majority
parties that ousted Gutierrez the votes needed to maintain a
31-magistrate Supreme Court. The parties that voted in favor
of overriding the President's partial veto were the PSC, ID,
Pachakutik, PSP, PSE, DP, and MPD parties and independents.
There was one vote against the override by Carlos Gonzalez
(ID). The PRIAN and PRE parties abstained from the vote,
saying they did not want to be a part of the continued
politicization of the court.

3. Ex-President Gutierrez had been in favor of shrinking the
court to 16 magistrates. Gilmar Gutierrez, PSP Congressman
and brother of the ex-President, told press the PSP was
seeking alliances with all sectors to move the country
forward. Others accused the PSP of trying to win the
majority's goodwill to avoid the next round of
politically-motivated Congressional purges.

Judicial Vacuum To Last Three Months
------------------------------------

4. The Supreme Court will remain vacant until the new
magistrates are named which will take approximately 90 days.
The presidential veto struck down the creation of a seven
person interim court, composed of the seven oldest judges
from the superior courts, to handle urgent cases while the
new court is being named. The court will have 10 chambers
with three magistrates each: three criminal courts, three
civil and commercial, two labor and social courts, one for
administrative disputes, and one tax court.

New Requirements for Magistrates
--------------------------------

5. The Supreme Court will have 31 magistrates, one of whom
will be elected the court's president for a period of two
years. Eleven will be career judges, ten will be from
universities, and ten will be from the private sector. The
requirements to be a magistrate will include: holding a law
degree received at least three years prior, not having been a
political party or movement leader during the past five
years, not being in debt to the State, not having a contract
with the State, and not having defended someone found guilty
of drug charges. (This last provision has been opposed by
legal scholars.)

Committees to Designate New Magistrates
--------------------------------------

6. The committee that will designate the new magistrates
will have five members: one member from the lawyers colleges,
one representing the deans of law schools, one from the
ministers of the superior courts and district tribunals, one
from the national anti-corruption commission, and one named
by human rights organizations. After 15 days, the committee
will prepare a decree to define the process for selecting
among nominated candidates.

Critics Already Emerging
------------------------

7. Human rights groups led by Valeria Merino of the group
CLD have said they will not be a part of the committee to
elect the new magistrates to the Supreme Court. Human rights
groups do not like the power the committee would have to
select candidates, eliminate candidates arbitrarily, and want
greater transparency built into the process. Some human
rights groups are threatening to send a complaint to the OAS
stating their disagreement with Congress' decision.

Government Disagrees With Congress' Decision
--------------------------------------------

8. Not happy with Congress' vote to maintain the 31 Supreme
Court magistrates, Presidential legal advisor Roberto
Gonzalez is reportedly considering drafting a new reform
package to be submitted to Congress. The reforms would
reportedly include changes to the selection committee and to
the role of international observers, to increase civil
society and media participation in the process and ensure
transparency. The package could also seek to reduce the
number of magistrates on the court. Commenting on another
key political issue related to the court reform already
approved by Congress, Gonzalez said that the validity of the
rulings made by the December 8 court, including dropping
charges against ex-Presidents and Vice President Bucaram,
Noboa, and Dahik, would be decided by the new court.

International Organizations To Observe Process
--------------------------------------------- -

9. According to the court reform passed by Congress, the
selection process for the new court will be observed by
international organizations including the United Nations, the
European Union, and the Andean Community. They will act with
total freedom to follow the process to qualify and designate
the magistrates. They will be free to denounce any outside
interference in the process.
Comment
-------

10. Congressional passage of Supreme Court legislation
shifts debate from design to implementation, which promises
to be no less controversial. Until a new court is selected
and sworn in, Ecuadorian justice will remain headless,
preventing definitive rulings on appeals in the interim.
Chacon

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