The Brazil Supreme Federal Court [official website] on Wednesday unanimously ruled [press release, in Portuguese] to limit the immunity from local prosecution granted to federal lawmakers in the country.
Earlier, members of the Brazil National Congress [official website, in Portuguese] could only be tried in the Supreme Court regardless of whether or not an individual’s alleged crime occurred before he or she became a member of the legislature. With this ruling, federal lawmakers can now be tried in lower level courts for alleged crimes directly linked to their official roles committed during their service in the federal legislature.
Three of the ten justices voted in favor of extending the new ruling to all crimes regardless of their link to lawmakers’ official roles, but seven voted in favor of the more limited scope of crimes directly linked to the exercise of a lawmaker’s public function.
Justice Ricardo Lewandowski criticized the majority’s restriction of the scope of its ruling on the basis of workload stating that ongoing criminal proceedings in the Court represent only 5% of the cases while most of the Court’s work is in actions involving the union and the treasury: “It does not appear to be lawful for the Court to give a restrictive interpretation to the rule of law to reduce the stock of cases on a point of order, much less claiming a constitutional change, without there being any substantial change in the factual plan,”
Some experts have hailed the ruling [Reuters report] as a “blow to impunity for the powerful” while Justice Alexandre de Moraes saw not much cause to celebrate because every accusation leveled against a member of Congress would still have to be heard by the Court merely to determine if a case should to referred down to a lower court.