Judges revolt: refuse to accelerate Papal amnesties

Superior Council of Magistrature accuses State of interfering in judicial powers

With the court system already in ‘chaos’ today with a new strike delaying delayed schedules even further, judges are also reported to be “refusing the order from the Justice Ministry to accelerate amnesties and pardons programmed by the government in the context of the Papal visit” to Portugal as part of World Youth Day last month. 

At issue is a circular sent to the courts by the ministry this week, “putting pressure for release orders to arrive at prisons by yesterday” – the eve of the government’s decree coming into force.

Judges however interpreted the order as “interference”, and have suggested the instructions are “illegal”. 

Manuel Soares, of the syndical association of Portuguese judges, has told SIC Notícias that judges apply and interpret the law, not the government. These pardons will require scrupulous analysis, on a case by case basis – work that can take hours, per case.

The Superior Council of Magistrates convened an emergency meeting in which it accused the General Directorate of the Administration of Justice of ‘interfering in judicial powers”.

This has seen the director general of the Administration of Justice, Isabel Namora, insist the government circular was never intended to ‘condition the activity of magistrates’. But the atmosphere is what it is – and, for now at least, the amnesties are not going to be ‘rushed through’ to suit any kind of time-scale imposed by the Ministry of Justice.

These particular amnesties have been ‘jinxed’ from the outset, as they are focused simply on young offenders. Older offenders jailed for the exact same offences are not entitled to any kind of Papal reprieve – and this has been seen as distinctly unfair.

Papal amnesties are something of a tradition in Portugal, although they are not enacted every time a Pope visits the country.

[email protected]

Portugal Resident