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The Justice System of Panama

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Reform plan for Panama justice system

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Panama’s Chamber of Commerce  Industry and Agriculture (Cciap) has introduced a proposal for reforms to the constitution largely aimed at resolving one of the country’s most contentious issues a proposal for reforms to the constitution largely aimed at resolving one of the country’s most contentious issues – the administration of justice.

The proposal, presented by the Chamber’s president Gabriel Barletta, would extend the time in office of the magistrates of the Supreme Court (CSJ) from 10 to 20 years.

In addition, it proposes modifying the requirements to be a magistrate be modified, increasing the minimum age from 35 to 45 years, and requiring  10 to 15 years of experience in the exercise of law.

The initiative retains the power of the Cabinet Council to appoint magistrates, but the designation would be made from a list provided by a  nine-member commission of Evaluation and Nomination, representing Associations and Guilds from the private sector, academic, and civic, NGOs, bar associations, workers and the Executive.

The ratification of the judges would require the approval of two-thirds of the National Assembly instead of the absolute majority currently required.

If the qualified majority in the Legislature is not achieved, the plenary session of the CSJ could appoint the new magistrate to a temporary position as well as the substitute judge.

The Executive should send a new candidate for ratification within 60 days. This candidate would come from the list provided by the Evaluation Commission.

Regarding the judicial function of the Legislative, it is proposed that the Assembly would hear complaints

against the president and the magistrates of the CSJ, and judge them. But the investigation would be carried out by the Public Ministry (MP).

The CSJ, it would hear complaints against the deputies and judge them, but the investigation would be done by the CSJ.

The attorneys of the Nation and the Administration would continue to serve for 10 years, but those appointed by the Executive would be from the list of the Evaluation Commission.

The proposal says that the Judicial Branch would elaborate its own budget and this could not be modified by the Executive.

Barletta said that the proposal is the product of work developed by constitutionalists that met for more than a year and concluded that the “center of democracy is justice.”

Juan Planells Fernández,  rector of the Santa María la Antigua University and member of the Observatory of the Judicial System, said that the proposed changes are necessary and trusts that the deputies will put their pettiness aside and approve the reforms.

The objective of the Cciap is that the reforms are approved, in three debates by this Assembly and are ratified by the deputies elected in 2019.



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Lawyer Brandao: Panamanian justice system is a shameful disaster

Thu, 10/11/2018 - 17:22

Panamanian lawyer José Nelson Brandao expressed his concern about the general state of the justice system in the Isthmus. In an exclusive interview with Panama Today he questioned the role of those who are called to be "just and fair" in the country. "The different press conferences of the Attorney General, where she reports the scandals of the Judicial Branch, the repression of the Prosecutors regarding the decision of the judges, the public conflict regarding who is telling the truth or not, ignoring the concepts of justice, are leading us to the irremediable conclusion that the justice system in Panama is a disaster and shameful".

In reference to the investigations published by the newspaper La Estrella, Brandao said that "all public officials involved must be accountable for their actions. It is not possible that the criminal proceeding is in the hands of individuals of a Security Council that are politically biased and that determine the legal details of the proceedings. If that reality that has been claimed as true and I do not question it, then the judicial system fell into a crisis for which the responsible public officials have to be accountable".

He fears that the political spiral within the justice system will continue. "Today they are the persecutors and tomorrow they will be the persecuted. This is the worst scenario that Panama can have, which needs credibility in justice," says Brandao

The lawyer said that "the bias in the investigations, the way they persecute each other and leave them unnoticed creates a bad impression as to what is really handled in the intrigues of the Security Council, the administration of justice, the preferential interests of investigators".

Regarding the appointment of the judges of the Supreme Court of Justice, Brandao said that, "we do not know if the appointment is for hearing a trial against Martinelli or if it is because the President has not had time or in the end we have not been given a reasonable explanation with which the contempt to the Panamanian public opinion is demonstrated".

He says that the justice and institutional crisis in the country also affects the common citizen, "this affects us directly, this defines our misery, this defines that there are no medicines in the Social Security Fund, in hospitals, and there is no job; this is the economic disaster of this country, the lack of credibility in Panamanian investment".

Brandao said that the new President of the Republic is called to guarantee a transformation of the system to help justice, peace and probity prevail.



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OPINION: Panama’s legal insecurity


Abel Zamorano

Posted 15/02/2019
Faced with similar facts, with equal rights invoked, the opinion of the courts must be the same. In Panama, it is not. The erratic behavior of the Third Chamber of Contentious Administrative Matters of the Supreme Court of Justice demonstrates the legal insecurity that the country suffers. On July 3, 2017, Judge Abel Zamorano rejected the admission of a lawsuit claiming that the National Bank pay a multi-million dollar compensation, for a trust constituted with a chain of warehouses: "... The act indicated as a generating event is dealt with of an act of civil-commercial nature, whose review is not the competence of this jurisdiction ... ". What is the difference between this case and the current demand against the bank for the trust of a shopping center? The same magistrate decides in a totally opposite manner. This is the reality that all citizens face, whose lives, liberties, patrimonies, and rights are in the hands of Panamanian justice. These unexpected changes of jurisprudence leave a bad taste in the mouth and raise a terrible halo of suspicion. The Court is still in time to avoid another shame, restoring calm to our economy - LAPRENSA, Feb. 15


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OPINION: Panama condemned to impunity


The Supreme Court

Posted 11/06/2019

A year ago, the Government of the United States gave extradition to Panama, to the ex-citizen of the Republic, Ricardo Martinelli. With the accusatory criminal system, it was supposed that the Panamanian justice could effectively ventilate the case  of the wiretaps. A year of delays, delaying tactics and the forced change of the Supreme Court's jurisdiction to an ordinary court have demonstrated the ability of the accused and his expensive army of lawyers to influence. The expense has not only been  to the former president, but also the State, which has invested public funds and thousands of hours of prosecutors, magistrates and other officials to carry out this trial. This is an example of why the Panamanian justice system is a source of frustration and bitter dissatisfaction, that make them pay all citizens a high price. Whatever the final outcome of the wiretappunctures case, it is urgent to focus on rebuilding justice. It is intolerable that Panama is condemned to impunity and legal uncertainty, the result of courts and judges trapped in a tangle of great interests.-LA PRENSA.June 11



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