By Niko Aberle,
Research and Communications Fellow, Asociación para una Sociedad más Justa
La Asociación para una Sociedad Más Justa (AJS, by its English initials), the chapter of Transparency International in Honduras, is a Honduran anticorruption organization dedicated to fostering the Rule of Law in their country. In the recent public audiences for candidates to Honduras’ Supreme Court, AJS incorporated the Due Process Law Foundation’s identified best practices for selecting high courts into a ranking system to help bring more clarity to the often opaque process.
The election of Honduras’ Supreme Court justices is unique. The Honduran Commissioner for Human Rights, the Honduran Bar Association, the current Supreme Court, the Honduran Council of Private Enterprise, School of Law Faculty, Civil Society, and Trade Unions each submit 20 Supreme Court nominees for consideration to the court. A Nominating Committee (Junta Nominadora) is comprised of representatives from the same groups. This committee is to select 45 finalists to present to the National Congress for a vote. From the short list, a new court of 15 justices will be elected by the National Congress, requiring a two-thirds majority from the unicameral legislature.
By leveraging transparency laws that require the Nominating Committee to host public audiences, AJS was able to compile an array of statistics and information for the public at large. Revistazo, AJS’s investigative journalism outlet, created an online tool and related report called #Judileaks rating and ranking each of the nominees to the Supreme Court in three areas identified by DPLF as key to a successful Supreme Court nomination procedure: answer quality, trustworthiness, and vision of the system of justice. The first focuses on legal expertise, the second on oratory ability and body language, and the third on critical analysis and subsequent proposals regarding the Honduran justice system. Each candidate was graded on a scale of 1-5 in each of the sections, and each section had two sub indicators. Each candidate was rated out of a possible score of 30. Based on these metrics, over a third of nominees failed, with scores of less than 70%. Only 11 nominees earned the highest scores, while some scored as low as 37%, answering erratically and displaying little knowledge of judicial processes.
The National Congress should heed AJS’s rankings. Through #Judileaks, there is renewed pressure on these decision-makers and will enable the public to know whether or not the court is being elected impartially and in a meritocratic manner. There was clearly an incentive for the Nominating Committee, with its often questioned motives, to be in agreement with the independent #Judileaks evaluations. The rankings caused a stir in the media, and on popular news program Frente a Frente, members of the Nominating Committee stated that they considered the rankings very useful and that many of their own evaluations coincided with Revistazo’s. While their final list of 45 included some excellent candidates, some of the best candidates were left off, and worse, they selected some of the lowest-scoring candidates including the second-worst candidate. As such, we can be reasonably concerned that the Nominating Committee was influenced apart from merit-based criteria.
At the beginning of the recent congressional vote, each legislator was presented with a copy of the report. As such, it has been ensured the legislators have no excuse if they do not select based on ability and instead on less wholesome grounds. It bears noting that the selection process has been delayed for over two weeks now, as Congress has been unable to reach a consensus. The legislature has elected 8 Supreme Court justices, and it is due to elect the remaining 7 today. However, multiple voting sessions have been scheduled thus far without bringing this process to a conclusion, so patience and hope are running thin.
If the finalists are low-scoring according to the #Judileaks rankings, the Honduran people and civil society will have more confidence to intelligently criticize the court, provide justification for protest, know who is responsible for irregular court decisions, and propose long-term solutions. On the contrary if the finalists scored highly in the rankings, it will inspire confidence that the new Supreme Court is composed of upstanding, expert, and trustworthy judges that have a greater potential to carry Honduras into a new era of right administration of justice.
When the Supreme Court is selected, ASJ will follow up with an analysis of the new justices