Viewing cable 05PANAMA2232

05PANAMA22322005-11-15 17:09:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Panama
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958:N/A 
¶1.  (SBU) On September 28, the State Commission for Justice 
Reform submitted to President Torrijos recommendations for 
in-depth changes to Panama's administration of justice 
(AOJ).  Many of the report's suggested reforms will require 
constitutional changes.  The report attempts to address 
glaring shortcomings in Panama's penal code, local courts, 
alternative dispute resolution, and family and probate law. 
Most importantly, the report proposes a new, more 
consultative method to choose magistrates to Panama's highly 
discredited Supreme Court.  President Torrijos formed the 
commission last Spring as a way to avoid making a 
politically awkward decision about judicial reform.  His 
reaction will show how sincere he is about finding short, 
medium, and long-term fixes to a problem that is sapping 
legitimacy from Panama's political system.  End summary. 
The "Commission" 
¶2.  (U) Reacting to mutual corruption allegations among 
three Supreme Court Justices followed by demands from civil 
society for the immediate removal of all nine Justices, 
President Torrijos decided to form a commission to study the 
problem in early March.  The resulting State Commission for 
Justice Reform was tasked with making recommendations for in- 
depth reforms to the AOJ.  The Commission included some big 
names: Jerry Wilson (Legislative President), Jose Troyano 
(Supreme Court Chief Justice), Ana Matilde Gomez (Attorney 
General), Oscar Ceville (Solicitor General), Juan A. Tejada 
(Ombudsman), Olga Golcher (Vice Minister of Government and 
Justice), Carlos Vasquez (National Bar Association 
President), and Magally Castillo (Pro-Justice Alliance 
Executive Director).  It arguably represents Panama's first 
serious attempt in its history to begin to correct an AOJ 
system widely seen as dangerously broken. 
Access to justice 
¶3. (U) The report recommends replacing the notoriously 
uneducated, politically motivated "corregidores" and "night 
courts" with professionally trained Justices of Peace.  The 
report also would: 
- make public defenders' salaries independent of the central 
judicial budget and to push alternative dispute resolution 
to decrease court workload; 
- encourage pro-bono legal work by law firms; 
- ask the National Bar Association to provide legal 
counseling to support public defenders; 
- improve legal instruments to protect "vulnerable groups" 
such as women, children and indigenous people, especially in 
domestic violence and abuse cases; 
- establish a Constitutional Court comprising three Supreme 
Court Justices to decrease the Court's workload and expedite 
constitutional cases. 
Comprehensive reform to penal jurisdiction 
¶4. (U) The report strongly recommends completely new 
policies to prevent and repress criminal behavior, such as 
Penal Code changes to speed administration of justice, 
amendments to the Procedural Code to separate civil and 
penal processes, and general updates to penal law.  The 
report highly recommends amendments to the Judicial 
Technical Police law (PTJ). (Note: the current PTJ law is 
confusing.  The PTJ --equivalent to the U.S. FBI-- Director 
General is appointed by the Chief Justice and can only be 
removed by the Supreme Court, yet his/her immediate 
supervisor is the Attorney General, who is not a member of 
the Judicial Branch, but of the Public Ministry, which works 
separately from the Judiciary.  End note.) 
Structural reforms of the AOJ system: new system to appoint 
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Supreme Court Justices 
¶5. (U) The proposals include: 
-  Re-designing the judicial disciplinary system for the 
Attorney General, Solicitor General, and all judges and 
prosecutors to prevent undue influence by superior judges on 
rulings and/or personnel; 
-  Implementing a new system for appointing Supreme Court 
Justices that would include a Special Commission to pre- 
select candidates for Supreme Court Justice, Attorney 
General and Solicitor General.  The Special Commission 
(including non-governmental legal experts) would meet when 
vacancies occur.  After screening the candidates (anyone 
could apply), the Commission would send the President at 
least 10 and no more than 15 names for each position open; 
-  Implementing a civil service career with a scientific 
personnel evaluation system at the Public Ministry to 
recruit highly-qualified human resources to provide job 
-  Updating judicial training; 
-  Creating new courts and prosecutors' offices throughout 
the country; 
-  Implementing updated managerial and financial systems at 
the Judicial Branch and the Public Ministry to guarantee 
administrative and financial autonomy for expedited justice; 
Accountability of and transparency by AOJ officers 
--------------------------------------------- ----- 
¶6. (U) The report recommends allowing public access to 
information judicial performance. 
It recommends: 
- Regular judicial and public ministry audits and an 
immediate national inventory of pending cases; 
- Fewer constraints in Public Ministry investigations; 
- More funds for Anti-Corruption prosecutors and for 
training and workshops on corruption and ethics. 
Jurisdictional reforms 
¶7. (U) Procedural and jurisdictional reforms for expedited 
justice recommended are: 
- Updates of commercial courts enforcing respect for 
consumers' rights; 
- Modifications to the Family, Children and Youth Courts' 
jurisdiction to enforce protection of victims; 
- Re-drafting of poorly-defined norms in the labor legal 
- Creating an audit department for the two existing maritime 
courts in the country. 
Constitutional reforms 
¶8. (U) The Commission's most important and in-depth 
recommendations will require constitutional changes, such 
- To establish a Judicature Council to exclusively handle 
all administrative affairs of the Judicial Branch (e.g. 
human resources issues, salary scales, promotions, 
disciplinary actions, etc.); 
- To define a new appointment system for Supreme Court 
Justices (see para 5); 
- To amend the AOJ budget so that it is not subject to cuts 
by other government branches; 
- To clarify the Attorney General and the Solicitor 
General's duties to avoid duplications; 
- To re-define the systems for monthly transfers of 
appropriations by the Executive branch to Judicial branch 
accounts on time to avoid current delays; 
- To make more transparent impeachment process against 
Supreme Court Magistrates by the National Assembly; 
- To establish a Constitutional Tribunal, separate from the 
current Supreme Justice, that would exclusively see 
constitutional cases, which usually require immediate 
Civil Society's reactions to the Commission's report 
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¶9. (SBU)  Despite President Torrijos's public commitments 
that he would study the report thoroughly and would take 
into serious consideration its recommendations, public 
reaction about the report's implementation and/or efficacy 
ranged from skeptical to hopeful.  The Ecumenical Committee 
of Panama publicly warned President Torrijos that it would 
be a "mockery to Panamanian society" if he does not make the 
recommended changes.  Well-known Catholic priest Nestor Jaen 
was more optimistic about the GOP's good will, but warned 
about the immediate need for changing the appointment system 
for Supreme Court Justices, as two vacancies will open soon. 
Former National Bar Association President Jose Alvarez 
stated that only in-depth constitutional reforms would bring 
about positive change, and the Pro-Justice Alliance 
published an announcement in local dailies informing society 
that it would monitor Torrijos implementing the reforms or 
¶10. (SBU) The Commission did a thorough job in its 161-page 
report, which includes technical and political reforms that, 
for the better, if carried out, would totally transform of 
the AOJ system in Panama.  However, significant financing is 
necessary to enact many of the suggested reforms.  When the 
Family Code was passed in 1995, the GOP estimated that at 
least 80 family courts were needed.  Ten years later, only 
20 family courts have been opened due to lack of resources. 
¶11. (SBU) Many of the reforms require political decisions by 
President Torrijos.  With civil society demanding immediate 
changes to the system for appointing justices, which would 
cost little, Torrijos could be in a position to accept them. 
Many expect that he will.  However, constitutional changes 
recommended by the Commission, which are legally not easy to 
do, would allow for some financial independence of the 
Judicial Branch.  It remains to be seen if a powerful 
presidential branch is willing to lose control over the 
judicial budget when traditionally, the Executive branch 
unilaterally reduces the AOJ budget even before submitting 
it to the National Assembly where further cuts are made.  In 
the month that has passed since the report was submitted, 
there has been no news on GOP action.  With sensitive Social 
Security reforms currently under discussion possible to be 
submitted to the National Assembly in December 2005 the 
timing may not be the best for Torrijos to implement most of 
the recommended reforms as his attention would be focused on 
controversial CSS changes. 
Eaton #