A meeting of the acting CGPJ earlier this month. / EFE

Law courts' work being held up by long political stalemate

The CGPJ, the top committee overseeing the appointment of judges, cannot take key decisions as it has members missing

S. I. BELLED / L. PÉREZ | M. BALÍN MADRID.

The Spanish justice system and day-to-day working of the courts is in the midst of its biggest crisis in modern times due to political bickering at the top.

The failure by MPs to appoint new members to the ruling committee that oversees the appointment of judges and the smooth running of the system means there are currently almost 70 vacancies for senior judges plus five free positions in the all-important Constitutional Court.

Since December 2018, the committee, known as the Consejo General del Poder Judicial (CGPJ), has had no powers to decide on these posts, although it has been meeting in an acting capacity.

The two biggest political parties, the Socialist-PSOE and the conservative Partido Popular (PP), have been holding up the renewal of the CGPJ by failing to agree on the members the Spanish parliament is responsible for choosing. Three fifths of MPs need to be in favour of an appointment so both these largest parties need to agree.

Fed up with waiting around for instructions from politicians, the CGPJ committee's president, Carlos Lesmes, resigned earlier this month, as he had threatened to for a while.

Four new members need to be appointed to the ruling committee - two candidates chosen by government and two by the committee, who cannot agree either. It is a complicated and at times constitutionally murky arrangement which has also drawn negative comments from Brussels in the past over its lack of independence from politicians.

The situation is getting urgent and Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and PP leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo have recently tried to restart negotiations over the appointments, with many MPs saying this is the "last chance" - after almost four years - to avert a crisis.

Among the responsibilities of the Consejo General del Poder Judicial are naming judges and top positions in the court system, inspecting courts and checking they are working independently. Members are appointed for five years. The president of the committee is normally also president of the Supreme Court, which is particularly affected by this state of limbo at the CGPJ.

Backlog at Supreme Court

The Supreme Court, the final court of appeal in Spain, has 20 per cent of its judges' jobs vacant and a backlog of 800 cases as a result and the ministry of Justice has estimated that this hitch in the democratic process is costing the judicial system 13 million euros a year.

As a result of the uncertainty and the resignation of Carlos Lesmes, disagreement has broken out within the CGPJ committee itself; it and the Supreme Court could now be headed by different people for the time being until it starts to work properly again, although one member of the CGPJ has this week launched a legal challenge against this split.