Judiciary Council president calls Monday’s arrests a ‘good start’ but worries about threats to judges

Mar 8, 2024 | 0 comments

The president of Ecuador’s Judiciary Council calls Monday’s arrests at the Guayas Provincial Court headquarters a “good start” to uprooting corruption in the country’s justice system but says much more needs to be done.

Ecuador’s Judiciary Council President Álvaro Román

“If the allegations presented by prosecutors are proven – and the evidence is very convincing — they show the alarming extent to which corruption has infiltrated the court system,” says Álvaro Román. “The networks of corruption are widespread and powerful and they are only now being uncovered. I am grateful to the Attorney General’s office for its investigation in this case and hope there are more to come since the judiciary does not have the resources or legal mechanisms to adequately confront the corrupt forces.”

In addition to battling bribery and extortion from organized crime, Román says the justice system suffers from a severe lack of funding and political interference from other branches of government.

Asked about the court’s limitations in exposing corrupt judges and reviewing cases that might be influenced by drug money, Román told a Primicias interviewer the system does not have the legal authority to hire undercover agents, technicians and informants or to conduct wiretaps and monitor cell phone messages that law enforcement has. “We are a weak system in this respect and that’s why we are talking to Diana Salazar and her office about ways to confront and react to suspicious court activity,” he said. “Going forward, we will depend on this relationship.”

“What we are capable of doing to improve our operations is to reconsider the process of selecting judges,” Román added. “We must emphasize the qualities of personal integrity and the sense of duty to the public in our selections. We need to distance ourselves from the influence of outside parties, especially those with political agendas. At the same time, we must work with the president and National Assembly to increase our budget so we can increase judges’ salaries and hire additional administrative staff.”

Beyond upgrading the selection process, Román says there must be better methods of protecting judges from organized crime. “The criticism of corruption within the system is justified but we must also consider the personal pressures that judges face every day,” he says. “Many of them receive threats against themselves and their families and we must have a system where they can confidentially report threats so they can be protected. There are cases when judges feel forced to accept bribes and provide favorable legal rulings for defendants. It is the deadly choice of silver or lead [plata o plomo].

Ideas under consideration to protect judges, Román says, include making judgements anonymous and moving trials out of some local jurisdictions.

Román worries that recent news will deter good candidates from applying for judgeships. “I also worry that good judges — and this includes the vast majority of our judges — will decide that the dangers of the job outweigh the benefits and we are already experiencing rising numbers of resignations. We need top to bottom improvements to restore the public’s faith in the system but we must also make this a profession that good men and women want to be a part of.”

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