05/12/2014 Buenos AiresHerald - Nota - Nota de tapa Criminal Procedural Code reform becomes law
Opposition votes against bill amid complaints that Attorney General is granted more power Despite broad agreement about the value of switching from an inquisitorial to an adversarial legal system, partisan wrangling in the Lower House yesterday meant that the Victory Front (FpV) and its allies passed a wholesale reform to the Criminal Procedural Code (CPP) without opposition support late last night. Even though key members of the Radical party (UCR) agreed the current system is inefficient they were set to vote against the broad amendments in large parts due to the increased power that it grants the Attorney-General's office, currently under the leadership of Alejandra Gils Carbó. Despite winning Senate approval by a wide margin when she was appointed, the Attorney-General has become one of the opposition's preferred targets of criticism in the legal system. Buenos Aires City Mayor Mauricio Macri's PRO also said it would vote against the amendment, in part due to the increased powers it would grant the attorney-general. The new Criminal Procedural Code sets out the terms of a modernization of the rules governing criminal investigations, placing the onus on an expanded prosecution under the leadership of the Attorney-General. Lawmaker Graciela Giannettasio, representing the FpV caucus position as president of the Justice committee, promoted the reform as a "seeking a quick, oral, public and simple" criminal process that benefits victims and that would replace a current system that has failed to meet those objectives. The current system "is overwhelmed, doesn't meet the needs of the state or the citizen, doesn't favour the investigation or crimes nor the respect of human rights." The inquisitorial system, according Giannettasio, leads to the worst kind of "re-victimization, not knowing ever when the trial will be over, no participation in the investigation and the lack of oral hearings" and the lack of justice. The current system includes a hybrid system, in which both prosecutors and judges have a role in criminal investigations. At the provincial level the adversarial system has been in effect for years, with positive effects. Provincial jurists and academics streamed through the Senate to give their observations on the reform, some of which were incorporated as part of the 40 amendments to the text. In congressional hearings, Justice Minister Julio Alak noted that in Argentina an average criminal investigation and trial takes about eight years to complete and in Chile, which recently switched to an adversarial system, the average is about one year. Furthermore, the delays and inefficiencies in the current system mean that about 60 percent of those in the penitentiary system in the country have been charged but not indicted, a rate that is double the average in the region. Lawmaker Manuel Garrido of the UCR, a former prosecutor, agreed the current system "has inefficient investigations, the rights of the accused are not guaranteed, there isn't impartiality, the victim doesn't have a role and the system can't handle complex investigations." Still, his criticism was not enough to support the measure, focusing some of his criticism on the calls for the creation of about 1,650 positions within the Attorney-General's Office which amount to a 33 percent increase in staff. Expedited deportations As the case in the Senate, the UCR also rejected the language in article 35 of the reform, which establishes that deportation is applicable in cases in which foreigners (independently of their immigration status) are apprehended while committing crimes that have a maximum possible sentence of three years in jail. Foreigners who have their immigration papers in order can waive their trial and be offered the terms of "probation" like any other Argentine citizen, a path that is not open to those with a irregular migratory status. Leftist lawmaker Nicolás del Caño of the FIT seized on that measure to characterize the reform xenophobic and racist, while also taking a harsh line with an alternative proposal put forward by the PRO. Lawmaker Leonardo Grosso, of the Movimiento Evita group within the FpV, told the Herald that the amendment "is very good, as its resolves problems that have been demanded by the whole of the legal family. It provides for less discretion in the justice while also making it more democratic and more accessible. Nonetheless, we think that the the article concerning deportation or foreigners grants more discretionary power to the police and gives them a tool to discriminate against foreigners." Grosso confirmed that he would be voting in favour of the CPP but also formally registering his rejection of that part of the code. Joining him was FpV-Socialist Confederation lawmaker Jorge Rivas, who announced his support for the reform but added that he also found "flaws in the legislation, such as the case of Article 35. I have no doubt that in the future we will be able to amend a reform." The inclusion of these provisions in the new Code had come under fire not only from human rights groups but also Supreme Court Justice Eugenio Zaffaroni, who considered its inclusion improper as it is an issue that should be included in the Penal Code. Ahead of yesterday's vote both the PRO and Renewal Front (FR) introduced their own proposals and described them as better than the bill under debate. For the PRO, lawmaker Patricia Bullrich also launched criticism os of the congressional review of the bill. As president of the Criminal Legislation committee, Bullrich last week insisted that her committee should lead the debate. In the end the reform made it out of committee despite her complaints. Both the PRO and FR proposals take a tougher line against the Attorney General's office and the accused. Quorum clues Debate was delayed by the late arrival to the Lower House floor by a few FpV lawmakers and by the notorious absence of FpV lawmaker Martín Insaurralde. Insaurralde, who has been hinting at resuming his position as Mayor of Lomas de Zamora while taking a critical line of the government and publicly flirting with a switch to the Renewal Front, had said in the lead up to the vote that he wold be considering his vote with his advisers. No other FpV lawmaker had expressed such doubt about the CPP. Also missing from the floor when the rollcall was being taken was FpV lawmaker Dulce Granados, wife of tough on crime Buenos Aires prvoince Security Minister Alejandro Granados — and the entire opposition.