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INTERVIEW | Blanca Rosa Mármol de León, retired top court justice

"Constitutional Court must be abolished because of its attacks on justice"

"No judge is dismissed in Venezuela for imposing a harsher sentence than required, but judges are forced to step down for setting someone free" "The judicial branch cannot be run by the executive branch; the judicial power itself must control government instead"

Blanca Rosa Mármol de León believes that the Constitutional Court of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice has failed to invigorate the judicial power (Photo: Edsaú Olivares)
JUAN FRANCISCO ALONSO |  EL UNIVERSAL
Saturday January 12, 2013  12:00 AM
On January 7, for the last time, she visited the chambers where she has worked over the past 12 years, but not to hand down a ruling or make yet another dissenting vote, which she has used throughout the years to oppose the criteria of most of her peers. She will be there, instead, to hand over her office on the fourth floor of the building where the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ) is located to her replacement, Elza Gómez. In so doing, retired justice Blanca Rosa Mármol de León puts an end to a 38-year career within the Judicial Power.

On the premise of her retirement, the former member of the Criminal Court of the TSJ spoke with El Universal about her years in the nation's highest court; assessed the status of the Venezuelan justice system.

- The TSJ Law made it possible for justices whose terms ended last month to carry on until Parliament appointed their replacements. What is your take on the ruling by the Constitutional Court saying that justices must leave upon expiration of their terms and indicating that their replacements would take over?

- That ruling cannot be analyzed from a legal standpoint; it would simply fail. It is hasty and contravenes the Constitution and Law itself. The Court expressly does away with all the terms, hearings and notices to the parties, and then announces that our replacements may be sworn in but, at the same time and quite conveniently for at least two justices of the Constitutional Court they decide that the term for the justices they replaced does not need to be completed and that the new term will be 12 years. That is unbelievable; they acted as both judge and jury.

- Why have you not lodged an appeal or motion if you feel that the decision infringes upon the Constitution?

- Nothing can be filed. The only option would be to appeal before the Inter-American Court. This brings to mind the decision on the events of April 11, 2002, wherein nothing was said on whether there had been a coup d'état or not; the actual pronouncement was that no crime had been committed. That decision was reviewed by the Constitutional Court, which went on to void the ruling of the Plenary Court. It is sad to admit it, but the justices of the TSJ have no recourse against decisions made by the Constitutional Court. It should always be noted that this Court, which is a part of the Tribunal, ousted its own peers. The Constitutional Court does not rank above any other TSJ courts.

- But pragmatically it is because it has the power to construe the contents of the Constitution and review laws and rulings from other courts. That is way too much power.

- It is, and that is why it should be abolished.

- Are you suggesting abolishing the Constitutional Court?

- Yes, because it has done little else than make interpretations in detriment of our constitutional rights. That court, throughout recent years, has construed the Constitution only in favor of the government and has strayed from justice.

- Who would then interpret the contents of the Constitution?

- It would be best to create a standalone Constitutional Tribunal because, since the Constitutional Court is part of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, it can interfere with the decisions of its peers and even with those of the Plenary Court, in which its own members take part. 

- Going back to the decision about the justices whose terms have expired, do you think that the Constitutional Court made a serious mistake?

- It is beyond a serious mistake; they abused their powers.

- In these 12 years that you have been involved with the TSJ, do you think that justice in Venezuela has made progress or backtracked?

- Over these 12 years, I have never seen such injustice in the TSJ. The balance is utterly negative for several reasons. The first one is the infamous cleansing of the Judicial Power with the creation of the Constituent Assembly, which led to a wave of dismissals of judges and then proceeded to become lax in retirement requirements. As a result, many bad judges departed, but so did many good ones. The second issue is the complete loss of autonomy of justices. Our judges are now called upon by circuit presidents to be instructed on how their decisions should be made. This even takes place in the criminal courts.

The third reason relates to rigid criteria set by political motives, which have led to crimes like drug trafficking to be deemed crimes against humanity though they are not. This has led to irregularities like denial of benefits to certain convicts and has deepened the penitentiary crisis. Finally, there is the fact that the Constitutional Court interferes with the course of justice. It revises the decisions of lower courts and orders them to hand down binding decisions, despite the fact that the Constitution allows this only for aspects relating to Human Rights. All of this has given rise to countless instances of injustice. I have lost count of how many people have been jailed despite not deserving to be there.

Translated by Félix Rojas Alva
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