Break or continuity? Judges’ governing body goes to vote | Justice

Not everything divides them: they are both men who love the sea. At the age of 64, Luís Azevedo Mendes still enjoys a winter bath in the icy waters of Figueira da Foz, the city where he lives. Four years older, Afonso Henrique’s favorite sport was swimming, which he was forced to give up due to back problems. But he continues to be a regular at the beach, not least because he doesn’t live far from Guincho.

It was even feared that there were no candidates, but after all they will compete for the vice-presidency of the Superior Council of the Judiciary (CSM), a body for disciplining and managing judges. And if Luís Azevedo Mendes assumes himself as the face of change, leaving criticism to those who now cease functions, Afonso Henrique does not deny belonging to the line of continuity, or he had not been chief of staff of the council.

In his letter of introduction, the youngest judge speaks of the distance between judges and their main governing body. “We don’t want the distrust present, explained by the erratic walk of a CSM that lost its identity, affirmation, proximity and support from the body of judges”, he criticizes him. But he goes further: “We want a CSM with predictable criteria, inhibiting appearances of nepotism”. Nepotism? “Appearance of nepotism”, corrects the candidate, who knows how words can bring complications.

In 2018, when he was then president of the Court of Appeal of Coimbra, he decided to call the public body that manages the court’s computer system “a plaster that draws”. Which led to a complaint with the CSM, which was filed in the meantime.

This time, the target of his criticism is the system that governs the career progression of judges. At the age of 64, he has just been appointed as a member of the Supreme Court of Justice – a category without which he could not run for office. “And nobody arrives here before 63”, he laments, thanks to the slow progression and aging of a profession in need of more new blood. “We need to focus on recruiting more judges”, he argues. Is age an issue? It may come to be.

The CSM’s vice-president’s term lasts for four years, and Afonso Henrique will turn seventy-year-old next year, which means that there are those who understand that he will have no possibility of carrying out his mission to the end if he is elected, for reasons of mandatory retirement.

Judge Afonso Henrique

But the oldest candidate assures that this is not the case: “Nothing prevents me from completing the mandate, because this limit only applies to jurisdictional functions [julgar num tribunal]and this position only implies functions of management and administration”.

Divergences aside, both one and the other have already played roles in the Associação Sindical de Judges Portuguesas, which chose, in these elections, not to support any of the competitors.

The list of media lawsuits that Afonso Henrique has already decided on included the light rocket launched in the 1996 Portuguese Cup final between Sporting and Benfica, which caused the death of a fan. The judge decided that both the aggressor and the Portuguese Football Federation would have to compensate the victim’s family, a decision that was confirmed by the higher courts. Years later, it was already in the Lisbon Relation, decreed that a 14-year-old Gypsy girl could not abandon compulsory education.

His rival, on the other hand, prefers not to mention the cases he had in hand: “Judges should not be given to media attention or popularity”, he justifies.

To his assertions that the CSM has been too passive, leaving room for the Ministry of Justice to meddle in matters that should be the responsibility of this body, Afonso Henrique responds that it is a “criticism without content”. And he gives examples of some achievements of the mandate that is now ending: the creation of advisory services for judges and the implementation of medicine at work.

Political career and the judiciary

But he also thinks that the assessment of judges’ performance should change, valuing the exercise of their function more than postgraduate studies or conferences. And it is reflected in the statements of the president of the Supreme Court of Justice, Henrique Araújo, who is who by virtue of his functions presides over the CSM: “Judicial magistrates who opt for a political career should not be able to return to the judiciary”, under penalty of compromising the its image of impartiality. The matter is, moreover, under debate among the members of the council, a body that includes not only judges.

In the letter announcing his candidacy, Afonso Henrique presents the main reason for entering the race: “Being aware that the independence of judges requires a permanent struggle and does not end with the act of judging”. And he speaks of new technologies, “which cannot mischaracterize the essence of being a judge: to do justice”, at a time when the discussion of the entry of artificial intelligence in the courts is on the agenda.

Until today, the claim of successive leaders of the CSM to hand over to this body the management of the computer platforms on which the work in the courts is based, was nothing more than that – it continues to be the Ministry of Justice in charge of everything. Luís Azevedo Mendes also speaks of this: “We want to overcome the archaism that has the CSM as a simple disciplinary body, affirming its modern profile of responsibility in the macro-management of the courts”.

The data is released. With Easter in the middle, the candidates fear that it is not enough time to launch the campaign. On the 12th of April the judges will declare their justice.

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