Responding to crime hurts rule of law

Raul Guttieriez at InterPress Service has a new article titled EL SALVADOR: Hard-Line Policies Vs Rule of Law. In the article, Guttierez looks at changes to criminal law in El Salvador made in response to the country's crime problems, which critics charge have weakened the institution of the courts in the country (an institution which has never had much integrity to start with):
The 1992 peace accord ushered in constitutional amendments that overhauled the justice system, with the aim of rooting out impunity and corruption and establishing the rule of law.

Congress approved the amendments, which included modifications of the penal code and criminal justice procedures "that led to the transformation from an inquisitorial system to an adversarial system," leaving behind the legacy of decades of military dictatorships, said Martínez.

But before the reforms were completely implemented, the government of president Armando Calderón (1994-1999) began to introduce modifications. And his successors (all of whom have belonged to the rightwing Nationalist Republican Alliance or ARENA, which has governed El Salvador since 1989) have followed the same formula. Today, Congress is studying further changes to the penal code.

The governments of Francisco Flores (1999-2004) and current President Antonio Saca both called for laws that would allow the PNC and the public prosecutors’ office to clamp down more effectively on the growing wave of crime, arguing that the laws as they stood benefited criminals more than society.

But groups of judges have criticised the changes, saying they affect the judiciary’s ability to be independent and impartial. They also argue that the new modifications under study in Congress deprive them of their constitutional authority to judge cases, by handing that power over in practice to the public prosecutors’ office.

Judge Sidney Blanco told IPS that legislators have introduced so many changes that "it is hard to identify the original draft law."

The reforms "have been reckless and prompted by brash reactions" to the growing violence and the public pressure resulting from the resultant media coverage, rather than being based on "sociological and criminological studies," he said. (more).