The curtain finally fell on Carlos Dívar on Thursday after a spectacle consisting of a high official who had been caught out but fought on desperately against the logical consequences. The outgoing Supreme Court chief justice claimed that he had no sense of having done anything wrong in charging the public coffers for the expenses arising from 32 weekend trips; but citizens see it quite differently, and, naturally, the interests of the CGPJ institution are far more important than those of its president.
What had started out as complaint by a member of the judicial council — subsequently blocked by the state’s Attorney General’s Office — turned into a process of loss of confidence on the part of Dívar’s colleagues, which, in all, took little more than a month to bring about his resignation. Given how far the situation had deteriorated, at least he had the dignity to fall on his sword before he was forced to resign.
Now the question arises as to who should replace Dívar at the head of the judiciary. The next CGPJ chief will have the task of restoring the prestige of a tarnished state institution whose role as overseer of the judiciary and rules on membership derive directly from the Constitution itself. It is vital that the replacement be well chosen as the perception of the judiciary as an institution is at stake and the work of thousands of judges and magistrates is under close scrutiny due to the behavior displayed by the outgoing CGPJ president.
Some attribute the problems to the politicization of the council and suggest a return to a system whereby members are approved by a majority of the country’s judges. But such a move would also imply a return to a corporatist model, with no guarantee of better results than those obtained by the expression of a parliamentary majority.
The Justice Ministry has proposed that the number of full-time members be reduced to just five, with the other 15 continuing to work as judges or attorneys — which could mean that they find themselves in the predicament of dealing with the council on matters related to their daily activities or concerning colleagues they see regularly in courtrooms. The key thing here is to name people who will dedicate themselves to the governance of the judiciary — and nothing else besides.
In any case, the crisis deriving from Dívar’s personal expenses is something quite apart from the political realm; it has everything to do with the opacity of the council’s modus operandi. The activities of the president, and those of the other members, must be transparent and subject to strict controls. The eligible candidate will be the one who can lead the council in its bid to provide a high-quality public justice service, making it more efficient and boosting the resources available to judges and magistrates. Working within the bounds of transparency is the surest path to avoiding corruption, in the CGPJ and all other public institutions.