I/A Court H.R., Case of Reverón Trujillo v. Venezuela. Preliminary Objection, Merits, Reparations, and Costs. Judgment of June 30, 2009. Series C No. 197.

Non official brief

This summary is also published in the website of the Council of Europe in the following link: www.venice.coe.int/files/Bulletin/B2009-2-e.pdf


Headnotes:

 

To comply with their obligation to ensure judicial independence, States must provide all judges, whether permanent or provisional, with adequate procedures for appointment, guarantees of job security, and freedom from undue external pressures.

 

Domestic procedures for the appointment of judges, whether permanent or provisional, must serve the goal of selecting candidates based on the objective criteria of personal merit and professional qualifications and ensure equal competition for judicial offices.

 

To ensure equal competition for judicial offices, domestic procedures for the appointment of permanent or provisional judges may not provide unfair advantages or disadvantages to candidates based on the office that they may currently occupy.

 

Any effective judicial remedy to an arbitrary dismissal of a provisional judge requires that judge's reinstatement and the payment of back wages.

 

Litigants are entitled to have their claims decided by judges, whether permanent or provisional, who are and appear to be independent.

 

The stipulation that permanent and provisional judges mrst enjoy the same guarantees of judicial independence does not also require that they enjoy the same kinds of protections.

 

States must provide all judges, whether permanent or provisional, with a certain measure of tenure, so that, in the case of provisional judges, such judges may enjoy all of the benefits that are characteristic of permanence up to and until the time that their provisional term expires in accordance with domestic law.

 

To ensure that those who have the power to decide on dismissals within the Judicial Branch do not exert undue pressure on judges, States must ensure that judicial appointments of a provisional nature have a fixed duration in time and may not indefinitely extend provisional judicial appointments such that they effectively become permanent appointments.

 

A State is exempt from the obligation to provide the effective legal remedy of reinstatement to a provisional judge who has been arbitrarily removed from office only if the reasons for refusing to do so are appropriate, necessary, and narrowly tailored to achieve a customarily recognised purpose. Examples of acceptable justifications may include the fact that the court to which the provisional judge belonged no longer exists, the judicial office previously held by the provisional judge has been filled by a permanent judge, or the provisional judge no longer possesses the mental or physical capacity required to hold that office.

 

A State which implements a transitional domestic regime of provisional judges in order to achieve the legitimate purpose of filling permanent judicial seats with the best qualified candidates infringes the guarantee of judicial independence where the transitional regime remains in place for ten years, the State fails to adopt a code of judicial ethics and laws governing judicial discipline in accordance with its constitution, the proportion of provisional judges to permanent judges reaches 40%, and the State fails to grant a system of tenure to its provisional judges.

 

The right of equal opportunity of access to public office established in Article 23.1.c ACHR requires that permanence in an office attained be effectively protected. States must provide all judges, whether permanent or provisional, equal guarantees of reinstatement in the case of arbitrary dismissal or removal.

 

Article 8.1 ACHR obligates States to refrain from illegally interfering in the activities of the judiciary, to prevent such interferences, to investigate and punish those who may engage in such interference, and to establish an appropriate normative framework for providing judges with necessary guarantees of judicial independence.

 

Article 8.1 ACHR entitles litigants to have their cases heard by independent judges, but does not entitle judges themselves to independence.

 

Summary:

 

I. On 6 February 2002, Ms. Maria Cristina Reverón-Trujillo was dismissed from her provisional position as a First Instance Judge of the Criminal Judicial Circuit of the Caracas Judicial District for purported disciplinary offenses. On 13 October 2004, the Supreme Court of Justice (hereinafter "the Supreme Court") found that she had not committed those offenses, overturned her dismissal, and ordered the Government to consider her candidacy for a permanent judicial seat. However, the Supreme Court abstained from ordering her reinstatement or the payment of back wages because her position was provisional and the judicial system was being restructured domestically in such a way that all judicial positions were to be filled through a competitive process.

 

On 9 November 2007, the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (hereinafter "the Commission") filed an application with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (hereinafter "the Court") against the State of Venezuela (hereinafter "the State"), alleging violations of Article 25 ACHR (Right to Judicial Protection), in relation to Article 1.1 ACHR (Obligation to Respect Rights) and Article 2 ACHR (Domestic Legal Effects), to the detriment of Ms Reverón-Trujillo. The representatives of the victim alleged additional violations of Article 8 ACHR (Right to a Fair Trial), Article 23 ACHR (Right to Participate in Government) and Article 5 ACHR (Right to Humane Treatment).

 

II. In its Judgment of 30 June 2009, the Court first dismissed the State's preliminary objection alleging that the victim failed to exhaust domestic remedies.

 

Additionally, the Court found that the State had violated Article 25.1 ACHR, in relation to Articles 1.1 and 2 ACHR, because the most appropriate legal remedy for Ms Reverón-Trujillo's arbitrary dismissal would have been reinstatement with payment of back wages, and the State's failure to provide this remedy was not justified by the victim's provisional status or the ongoing process of judicial restructuring, which had been underway for ten years. Thus, the recourse available was not effective. However, the Court also held that the facts of the case did not support the representatives' claim that the victim had been dismissed for political and economic reasons.

 

The Court next found that the State had arbitrarily discriminated against Ms Reverón-Trujillo with respect to her right to enter and remain in public office, in violation of Article 23.1.c ACHR, in relation to Article 1.1 ACHR, by failing to reinstate her following her arbitrary dismissal from office, despite the fact that a similarly situated permanent judge would be entitled to reinstatement.

 

However, the Court declined to find a violation of Article 8.1 ACHR on the ground that the right protected therein belongs to litigants, which are entitled to have their cases heard by independent tribunals. In addition, the Court declined to address the alleged violation of Article 5.1 ACHR on the ground that the facts giving rise to the alleged violation had not been presented in the Commission's application, were not limited to explaining or clarifying the facts properly before the Court, and did not constitute supervening events.

 

Accordingly, the Tribunal ordered the State to reinstate Ms Reverón-Trujillo to a position similar in rank, remuneration, and social benefits to the one that she previously occupied within six months of the date that the judgment was served; if this proved to be impossible, the State was to pay the victim an indemnification established in equity. The Court also ordered the State to expunge any notation of dismissal from her personnel file; to immediately adopt the measures necessary to approve the Code of Judicial Ethics; to conform its domestic legislation to the American Convention on Human Rights with respect to the removal of provisional judges; to publish portions of the Judgment; to pay pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages; and to reimburse the costs and expenses of the parties.

 

Judge ad hoc Einer Elias Biel Morales wrote a dissenting opinion.