Justice system developments

El Salvador finally has a functioning Supreme Judicial Court once again.  At the end of last week, the parties in the National Assembly reached agreement and elected four new magistrates to the court's Constitutional Chamber and one new magistrate to the Civil Chamber.  Apparently the breakthrough occurred when the FMLN and GANA stopped insisting on Sonia Cortez' appointment to the Constitutional Chamber and instead she will be a back-up magistrate ("magistrado suplente").  This ends a four month delay after the date the court was supposed to be filled.

El Salvador will wait to see what kind of court the new Constitutional Chamber will be. The preceding court was an independent voice with decisions rewriting how legislators are elected and challenging impunity.     The outgoing magistrates overturned the postwar amnesty law and often blocked initiatives of the current FMLN government.

Now attention turns to selection of the country's next attorney general ("fiscal general de la republica" or "FGR").    Current attorney general Douglas Melendez has brought high profile corruption cases against former presidents Saca and Funes, and his predecessor as FGR, Luis Martinez.  Melendez has also presided over round-ups of networks of alleged gang members.   Despite initiating many prosecutions, however, his track record in getting convictions is decidedly mixed and he has dragged his feet on human rights cases arising out of the civil war, blaming the legislature for a lack of prosecutorial resources.

Melendez' term in office ends in January just before the presidential elections.   He is one of a long list of candidates, many with dubious credentials, being considered.   Melendez has substantial backing, but may not have enough to be reappointed.   He has generally been backed by the US.

A new Constitutional Chamber and a new FGR could play an important role in the struggle against corruption and for human rights in the country.   But the process of political deal-making and candidate selection in the National Assembly makes such an outcome less than certain.