The Supreme Court of Justice (STJ) has forced the Superior Council of Magistracy (CSM) to redo the rules that regulate the presentation of income statements by judges, to prevent them from being the target of retaliation, reports Público today.
According to the newspaper, the STJ says that the body that oversees the judicial magistracy introduced several illegalities in the regulation aimed at applying to judges an obligation that until 2019 only covered holders of political and high-level public offices.
After analyzing a complaint by the Associação Sindical de Juízes Portugueses against the CSM, “the Supreme Court concluded last month that magistrates cannot be subject to as high a degree of public exposure as the political class,” the newspaper writes.
Although they must continue to be subject to the scrutiny of their assets, in order to prevent the phenomenon of corruption, “the security and tranquility they need to be able to decide with independence, impartiality and consideration are values that cannot be called into question through mechanisms that to facilitate the investigation of their personal and family life”, refers the judgment, cited by Público.
When adapting the obligation to declare income to the class of judges, the CSM understood that, like politicians, these magistrates would also have to include in them both the identification of the spouses and the land registration numbers of the properties they owned.
What the STJ is now saying is that access to this type of data “configurates a significant increase in the risk of retaliation on judges or their families and on their assets, which is now facilitated by public access to patrimonial elements that allow the easy location of the usual or vacation residence”.
Although the address of people subject to this obligation is not publicly accessible, “it is the matrices of the land registry that are required to be included in the declaration, and allow the location of properties to be obtained”, recalls the newspaper.
The identification of the property and its availability in public access, in addition to jeopardizing the security of the magistrate, which must be preserved, is also a potentially disruptive factor in the free exercise of judicial functions and, consequently, the duty of independence and impartiality inherent to function of judging”, can be read in the judgment of the Supreme, cited by the newspaper.
The counselors also explain why judges should benefit, in terms of privacy, from more rights than politicians: “Unlike what happens with other subjects, they make decisions that are immediately projected in the lives and interests of concrete citizens , therefore exposing them to possible direct reactions from people unhappy with such decisions”.
On the other hand, they add, a magistrate is usually a magistrate for a lifetime, while political functions are less durable, which means that “his private life is potentially more affected by wide access to personal data” than that of the politicians.
The STJ gave the CSM six months, until the end of the year, to redo the regulation.
Público also writes that the process “has gone better on the prosecutors’ side”, also subject to the same obligation, as the Superior Council of the Public Ministry introduced some provisions in the regulation that limit public access to the judges’ statements.