27 February 2008

Contentious judicial reform provision dropped

Contentious judicial reform provision dropped

David Agren
The News

The Chamber of Deputies on Tuesday discarded a controversial provision from its wide-ranging judicial reform package that would have allowed for police searches of private homes without the officers first obtaining a warrant.

Members of all eight parties approved dropping the measure, which had been bitterly opposed by the Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, the Convergence Party and the Labor Party over concerns the provision would provide a pretext for persecuting social and political groups and foment corruption by unscrupulous police officials.

The legislation, which the Chamber of Deputies had been expected to approve on Tuesday, now goes back to the Senate, where debate on judicial reform will begin on Thursday.

Judicial reform would overhaul the nation's oft-maligned criminal justice system by introducing oral trials, providing speedier access to the courts and bringing improved transparency to a process that's largely carried out on paper and behind closed doors.

But the reforms provoked disquiet among opposition political parties, social movements and human rights groups due to the provisions allowing for police searches without a warrant.

The groups also objected to provisions for fighting organized crime, which included proposals that would permit authorities to detain suspects for up to 80 days without charges being laid and better facilitate the extradition of suspects to foreign countries.

National Human Rights Commission President José Luis Soberanes said over the weekend that the judicial reform package "constituted a step backwards for individual rights."

Ruth Zavaleta, Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, told The News that "80 percent" of the reforms were excellent, but added that the parts allowing for police searches could be used by ruling politicians seeking revenge against their ousted rivals.

The Chamber of Deputies originally approved the judicial reform package in December, but the Senate modified the legislation by taking out a provision allowing investigators to search financial records without first obtaining legal permission and removing four words from the clause permitting police searches. The Senate is expected to pass judicial reform promptly and sources in the Chamber of Deputies said the package would pass before the current legislative session ends in late April.

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