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Venezuela: Financial independence of the judiciary

At the institutional level, international standards make clear that it is the duty of the State to provide adequate resources to enable the judiciary to properly perform its functions.[1] As a safeguard of judicial independence, the courts’ budget shall be prepared “in collaboration with the judiciary having regard to the needs and requirements of judicial administration”.[2]

Furthermore, the remuneration and pensions of judges must be secured by law at an adequate level that is consistent with their status[3] and is sufficient to safeguard against conflict of interest and corruption. Under the Statute of the Iberoamerican Judge, States are obligated to provide judges with access to a system of social security, guaranteeing an honourable pension in case of retirement and adequate indemnity in case of illness or in case of damage arising from the exercise of their function.[4]

The Inter-American Commission has emphasized that adequate remuneration, proper human and technical resources, training and security conditions are essential to enabling justice operators to perform their functions, without external or internal pressures, for example corruption.[5]

Furthermore, the State must “provide the necessary means for the family and personal security of the judges according to the circumstances of risk to which they can be presented”.[6]

 

The independence and financial autonomy of the Judicial Branch and the Supreme Tribunal of Justice are enshrined in the Constitution,[7] as well as in the Organic Law of the Judicial Power (OLJP), which recognize that functional, economic and administrative autonomy is required to guarantee the independence of the Judicial Power.[8]

The Executive Directorate of the Judiciary, created by the Plenary of the STJ, is responsible for the elaboration and implementation of the budget of the judicial power.[9] The National Assembly approves it as part of the National Budget.[10] The Constitution establishes that the annual budget of the judicial power may only be modified or reduced by the Legislative, and cannot be less than 2% of the National Budget.[11]

The budget elaborated by the judicial power is not always fully approved by the Legislative Body and in some cases may not be sufficient to satisfy the needs. For example, in 2002 the Judicial System, through the Executive Directorate, requested 680 billions Bolivars, but just 359 billions Bolivars were allocated by the National Assembly.[12] The Executive Directorate of the Judiciary has stated that the allocated budget in 2003 was 45% less than the one requested by the STJ for that year, and represented a reduction of the budget granted in the previous two years.[13] In 2009, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights recommended Venezuela “[i]ncrease the budget assigned to the judicial power as necessary to eliminate procedural delay.”[14]

The increase of the budget of the System of Justice to at least 2% of the National Budget has encouraged the investment in different programmes to increase access to justice (i.e. investment in infrastructure, purchase of IT equipment, and training for judges).[15] However, the actual implementation of the budget is not specified in the information system of the Government.[16]

Since 2011, the amount allocated by the National Assembly for the System of Justice has shrunk as a share of the overall national budget.[17]

 

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. 1. UN Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary, ”Principle

    It is the duty of each Member State to provide adequate resources to enable the judiciary to properly perform its functions.

    Statute of the Iberoamerican Judge, Adopted by the VI Iberoamerican Summit of President of Supreme Courts and Tribunals of Justice (2001), Article 6;

    The State shall guarantee the economic independence of the Judiciary, through the allowance of the adequate budget in order to cover its necessities and through the appropriate outlay of the budgetary parties.

     Draft Universal Declaration on the Independence of Justice (also known as the Singhvi Declaration), ”Article

    It shall be a priority of the highest order for the State to provide adequate resources to allow for the due administration of justice, including physical facilities appropriate for the maintenance of judicial independence, dignity and efficiency; judicial and administrative personnel; and operating budgets.

  2. 2. Draft Universal Declaration on the Independence of Justice (also known as the Singhvi Declaration), ”Article

    The budget of the courts shall be prepared by the competent authority in collaboration with the judiciary having regard to the needs and requirements of judicial administration.

  3. 3. UN Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary, ”Principle

    The term of office of judges, their independence, security, adequate remuneration, conditions of service, pensions and the age of retirement shall be adequately secured by law.

     Statute of the Iberoamerican Judge, Adopted by the VI Iberoamerican Summit of President of Supreme Courts and Tribunals of Justice (2001), Article 32;

    Judges must receive a sufficient, unyielded salary and appropriate to the importance of the function they carry out and to the exigencies and responsibilities entailed to this function.

     Draft Universal Declaration on the Independence of Justice (also known as the Singhvi Declaration), Article 16(a) ”Article

    The term of office of the judges, their independence, security, adequate remuneration and conditions of service shall be secured by law and shall not be altered to their disadvantage.

    Universal Charter of the Judge, Approved by the International Association of Judges on 17 November 1999, ”Article

    The judge must receive sufficient remuneration to secure true economic independence. The remuneration must not depend on the results of the judges work and must not be reduced during his or her judicial service. The judge has a right to retirement with an annuity or pension in accordance with his or her professional category. After retirement a judge must not be prevented from exercising another legal profession solely because he or she has been a judge.

  4. 4. Statute of the Iberoamerican Judge, Adopted by the VI Iberoamerican Summit of President of Supreme Courts and Tribunals of Justice (2001), Article 33.

    The State must provide the access to a system of social security to judges, guaranteeing that they will receive, at the end of their service on ground of retirement, illness or other contingency legally stipulated or in case of personal,
    family or patrimonial damage arising from the exercise of the position, an honourable pension or adequate indemnity.
    It is advisable, as far as economic possibilities allow it, to foresee a security system for judges including a multiple risk insurance.

  5. 5. Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, Guarantees for the Independence of Justice Operators, OAS Doc. OEA/Ser.L/V/II. (2013), para. 128.

    Adequate remuneration, human and technical resources, ongoing training and security are conditions that are essential to enabling justice operators to perform their functions independently and in order for the cases assigned to them to be prosecuted in court. Proper working conditions also help combat external or internal pressures like corruption. The Commission will now turn its attention to some of the conditions that are critical to ensuring that justice operators are able to perform their functions independently. (footnote omitted)

  6. 6. Statute of the Iberoamerican Judge, Adopted by the VI Iberoamerican Summit of President of Supreme Courts and Tribunals of Justice (2001), Article 35.

    Guaranteeing the independence and impartiality which have to chair the exercise of the judicial function, the State shall provide the necessary means for the family and personal security of the judges according to the circumstances of
    risk to which they can be presented.

  7. 7. Constitution, Article 254.

    The Judicial Power is autonomous, and the operating, financial and administrative autonomy of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice is hereby established. To this end, in the national general budget a variable annual amount at least equivalent to 2% of the ordinary national budget shall be allocated to the justice system in order to enable it to function effectively; such amount shall not be reduced or modified without authorization in advance from the National Assembly. The Judicial Power is not authorized to establish any charges or tariffs, nor to demand any payment for its services.

  8. 8. Organic Law of the Judicial Power, Article 1.
  9. 9. Constitution, Article 267.
    The Supreme Tribunal of Justice is charged with the direction, governance and administration of the Judicial Power and inspection and vigilance of the courts of the Republic and the public defenders’ offices. The Supreme Tribunal is also charged with preparing and implementing its own budget and that of the Judicial Power.
    Jurisdiction over judicial discipline shall be vested in such disciplinary courts as may be determined by law.
    The discipline system for magistrates and judges shall be based in the Venezuelan Judge’s Code of Ethics to be promulgated by the National Assembly. Disciplinary proceedings shall be public, oral and expeditious, in accordance with due process, subject to such terms and conditions as may be established by law.
    In order to exercise these powers, the Supreme Tribunal in plenary session shall create an Executive Department of the Judiciary, with its various regional offices.
  10. 10. Constitution, Article 187(6).

    It shall be the function of the National Assembly:

    6. To discuss and approve the national budget and any bill relating to the taxation system and to public credit.

  11. 11. Constitution, Article 254.

    The Judicial Power is autonomous, and the operating, financial and administrative autonomy of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice is hereby established. To this end, in the national general budget a variable annual amount at least equivalent to 2% of the ordinary national budget shall be allocated to the justice system in order to enable it to function effectively; such amount shall not be reduced or modified without authorization in advance from the National Assembly. The Judicial Power is not authorized to establish any charges or tariffs, nor to demand any payment for its services.

  12. 12. International Bar Association, Venezuela: Justice System in Crisis (2003), p. 18.
  13. 13. PROVEA, Annual Report 2003, p. 374. Last accessed 24 November 2014.
  14. 14. Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, Democracy and Human Rights in Venezuela, OEA/Ser.L/V/II, Doc. 54, para. 339, Recommendation 14.

    Increase the budget assigned to the judicial power as necessary to eliminate procedural delay.

  15. 15. Budgetary Law for Fiscal Year 2014, Chapter II, Title 21, p. 1.
  16. 16. PROVEA, Annual Report 2013, p. 344. Last accessed 24 November 2014.
  17. 17. PROVEA, Annual Report 2013, p. 343. Last accessed 24 November 2014.
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