Macau | Proposed judge redistribution to impact court system stability and independence - legislators

Legislators José Pereira Coutinho and Sulu Sou Ka Hou consider that changes to the judges and court cases redistribution included in the new Judicial Organization Law would harm the independence and stability of the courts

Macau (MNA) – Legislators José Pereira Coutinho and Sulu Sou Ka Hou consider that changes to the judges and court cases redistribution included in the new Judicial Organization Law would harm the independence and stability of the court system.

Speaking after the meeting of the 3rd standing committee of the Legislative Assembly (AL) on Thursday, the legislators demanded more information about the criteria through which the government would conduct court cases redistribution.

The committee held its second meeting today to discuss the recently approved Judicial Organization Law, with questions being raised over article 14, which suggests the Judicial Magistrates Council (JMC) would be able, whenever necessary, to change judges between different courts under the Court of First Appeal with at least a two-year period having to pass until the next appointment.

The judicial commission could also appoint, due to service convenience or ‘whenever necessary’, judges of an inferior statute to perform functions of a superior level for a period not superior to one year but with possibility of renewal.

These two proposed changes would also be applicable to presidents of collective court rulings. In such cases, the redistribution of judges would precede the redistribution of respective court cases following a set of criteria defined by the JMC after consultation with the judges and courts in question and with the appointment having to be effected through a draw.

“As you know, cases are distributed through a draw made internally by the courts. What will happen now is that in the future the JMC can redistribute the judge so if a judge is in charge of a case he can be transferred to a different case under unknown conditions, which would generate some instability to the courts and judges themselves,” Mr. Coutinho said after the committee meeting.

Meanwhile, Mr. Sou considered the changes may impact the judges “continuity in following court cases.”

“Maybe a judge will be in charge of a labour case and if the amendment passes the judge council could maybe transfer him to a domestic claims court,” he stated.

The young legislator also added that the committee does not know what criteria the judge council will use for conducting the cases redistribution and that this information needs to be provided by the government before approving the law.

The committee chairman, Vong Hin Fai, said in the end of the meeting that it was understood that the court cases would be redistributed under the “principle of arbitrariness” but that the government will have to be asked to clarify how the process will be conducted.

Unwelcome visitor

Coutinho voiced he was unpleased that legislator Iau Teng Pio – a law teacher and directly appointed legislator – was present in a committee where he is not a member and was allowed to speak firstly “for a long time” by the committee chairman to explain the government’s reasoning behind the changes.

According to the legislator, the government justifies the changes on the lack of judges and the need to solve unexpected issues that may arise in order to deal with an increasing number of court cases.

“Previously the government said maybe a judge could get pregnant or sick and then needs to be replaced, but after 18 years since the handover these issues have always been solved without a law by constituting collective judge courts by requesting judges from a different court,” he added.

The legislator considered that the redistribution should continue to be made internally by the courts instead of being handed to a council that may include members that are not judges or are appointed by the Chief Executive (CE).

The JMC is composed of five members, the President of the Court of Final Appeal (TUI), Sam Hou Fai, who heads the council, two members appointed by the CE through the proposal of the Independent Commission for the Appointment of Judges, and two judicial magistrates elected by these two, with the current members being Tong Hio Fong, Io Weng San, Philip Xavier, Io Hong Meng.

“If there is a lack of magistrates at the judicial training commission, then, more judges should be hired or something is not working properly at the judicial training centre since it is not satisfying the demand for judges at the public prosecution level,” he added.