, |

A Global Judicial News Report: May 2023


Judicature International (2023) | An online-only publication

Ecuador 🇪🇨

Ecuador’s Constitutional Court unanimously rejected challenges to President Guillermo Lasso’s decision to dissolve the nation’s parliament.

President Lasso’s move came as he was facing an impeachment vote that could have removed him from office for embezzlement. Challengers to Lasso’s decision argued that dissolving parliament was illegal “on the grounds that Ecuador is not facing any urgent crisis.” The court ruled it lacked the jurisdiction to “rule on the verification and motivation of the cause of serious political crisis and internal upheaval invoked” by Lasso. Following the high court’s decision, President Lasso will govern by decree for six months before general elections are held to elect a new president and parliament. (Associated Press)

European Court of Human Rights 🌐

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ordered Russia to pay roughly 130 million euros ($143 million) to the nation of Georgia for violations of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

The decision concerns the 2008 Russian invasion and occupation of the South Ossetia and Abkhazia provinces in Georgia. In 2021, the ECHR ruled in Georgia v. Russia II that Russia’s invasion violated “Art. 1 of Protocol No. 1 (protection of property), Art. 2 (right to life), Art. 3 (prohibition of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment), and Art. 8 (right to respect for private and family life)” of the Convention. In its latest ruling, the ECHR held unanimously that it had jurisdiction under Art. 58 of the Convention to decide Georgia’s just satisfaction claims under Art. 41 despite Russia’s exclusion from the Council of Europe and failure to participate in the proceedings. (Jurist.org)

France 🇫🇷

France’s high court, the Cour de Cassation, issued two rulings that clarified when French courts might exercise universal jurisdiction over crimes committed abroad.

The first case heard by the court concerned the prosecution of a Syrian national associated with the Assad regime for crimes against humanity that the French government alleges he perpetrated against challengers to the regime between 2011 and 2013. The second case was filed based on allegations of torture, war crimes, and crimes against humanity perpetrated by individuals associated with an Islamist group between 2012 and 2018. In both cases, the Syrian nationals who had been arrested and charged challenged France’s jurisdiction on the grounds that they “did not usually reside within France, the war crimes . . . [were] not criminalized in Syria,” and they were not official agents of the Syrian regime. The Cour de Cassation rejected these arguments holding first that French courts can exercise universal jurisdiction if the accused “habitually resides[s]” within French territory. Second, criminal acts under French law need not be criminalized the same way by the foreign country, and “it is sufficient if the foreign legislation punishes these acts as common offences such as murder, rape or torture rather than specifically as crimes against humanity or war crimes.” Finally, French courts can exercise universal jurisdiction over individuals who are not formal agents of a foreign power. A person acting in an official capacity also encompasses persons “acting for or on behalf of a non-governmental entity, in the situation where that entity occupies territory and exercises a quasi-governmental authority over the territory.” Therefore, the court ruled that the conditions had been met for French authorities to continue their investigation against both Syrian nationals. (Jurist.org)

Greece 🇬🇷

Greece’s high court ruled that the far-right Hellenes Party cannot participate in the country’s upcoming elections.

In the 9-1 decision, the court held “that parties that are beyond the political spectrum, promote violence and don’t respect democracy or the rule of law are not welcome in elections.” The Hellenes Party has links to neo-Nazi organizations and the party’s leader, Ilias Kasidiaris, is serving a 13-year prison sentence for convictions related to “running a criminal organization, weapons-trafficking, extortion and murder” committed during his time as the leader of the Golden Dawn extremist group. (Jurist.org)

Mexico 🇲🇽

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador backed a proposal to hold a national vote on whether to elect — rather than appoint — Supreme Court justices.

Approval of the referendum would lend support for his plan to introduce constitutional reforms. President Obrador has frequently clashed with Mexico’s judiciary; most recently, the Supreme Court rejected his government’s order that classified national infrastructure projects as matters of national security. President Obrador defied this order and declared a tourist rail project a matter of national security, ordering the Mexican government to assume control of it. (Reuters)

United Kingdom 🇬🇧

The 2022 UK Judicial Attitude Survey reported last month that “[o]nly 8% of salaried judges in England and Wales feel valued by the government.”

The judiciary has come under frequent attack by British politicians who seek to portray the judges as a “privileged elite . . . standing in the way of the will of the people.” Matthew Brooker, an opinion writer for Bloomberg in London, argued that “it’s time for politicians to start biting their tongues and moderating their language a little” when they voice their opposition to decisions handed down by UK courts. If UK politicians’ attacks on judges continue, Brooker is concerned that this rhetoric could prove “corrosive to democracy and potentially to the UK’s standing in the world — as political leaders in Israel, Hungary and Poland are learning.” (Bloomberg)

The Victims, Witnesses, and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill goes into effect this month in Scottish courts.

The Bill commences a pilot program whereby rape and attempted rape trials will be conducted without a jury. Instead, a single judge will preside over these trials and “must give written reasons for their verdicts.” Scottish lawyers, led by the Aberdeen Bar Association and other regional bar groups, plan to boycott the jury-less rape trials. Speaking to BBC 4, Stuart Murray, vice president of the Scottish Solicitors Bar Association, told the radio show that the pilot program removes an important pillar of the Scottish justice system thereby “leav[ing] the system open to bias by single judges.” (Jurist.org)

The May 2023 Global Judicial News Report was compiled and written by Grady S. MacPhee, J.D., LL.M. candidate at Duke University School of Law.