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UN expert warns new El Salvador law harms judicial independence

UN Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers [official website] Gabriela Knaul warned [press release, in Spanish] Friday that an El Salvador law requiring its high court to issue unanimous judgments is an "attack" on judicial independence and the separation of powers. The new law, passed by the Legislative Assembly and issued by the president, places requirements on the judgments of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court [official websites, in Spanish]. Knaul said [press release] that requiring unanimous rulings will harm the judges' ability to function effectively. She said:

El Salvador, as a country that is consolidating its democracy, should pay particular attention to the full independence of the judiciary and the principle of separation of powers enshrined in international instruments of which it is a party and which are enshrined in the Salvadoran constitution. The other branches of government cannot force the country's highest court to take judicial decisions unanimously, as the matters that fall within its competence are, by their very nature and complexity, controversial. [If followed, it] would block the activity and the effective functioning of the country's highest court and therefore substantially limit the rights of Salvadorian citizens to appeal to that court in defence of their fundamental rights.
The law has been controversial in El Salvador where civic organizations are pushing for its repeal [El Salvador Noticias report], and it has sparked debate between the branches of government.

El Salvador has struggled with judicial independence in the past. In 2008, Hundreds of judges and lawyers in El Salvador marched to the Supreme Court of Justice [JURIST report] to protest challenges that the attorney general made to the rulings of four judges. Attorney General Felix Safie asked the Supreme Court to investigate judges' decisions, which freed prisoners convicted of acts of murder, robbery and rape prior to the expiration of their sentence. Other countries have also been passing laws restricting the independence of judges. Last month, the Taiwan Judicial Yuan [official website] President Lai Hau-min announced a new law to remove judges [JURIST report] which subjects judges to committees that can discipline or fire them.

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