Supreme Tribunal of Justice (Venezuela)
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|Supreme Tribunal of Justice|
Tribunal Supremo de Justicia
TSJ building in Caracas
|Authorized by||Constitution of Venezuela|
|Currently||Miguel Ángel Martín|
The Supreme Tribunal of Justice (Spanish: Tribunal Supremo de Justicia or TSJ) is the highest court of law in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and is the head of the judicial branch. As the independence of the Venezuelan judiciary under the regime of Nicolas Maduro is questioned, there have recently been many disputes to whether this court is legitimate.
The Supreme Tribunal may meet either in specialized chambers (of which there are six: constitutional, political/administrative, electoral, civil, criminal, and social) or in plenary session. Each chamber has five judges, except the constitutional, which has seven. Its main function is to control, according to the constitution and related laws, the constitutionality and legality of public acts.
The Supreme Tribunal's 32 justices (magistrados) are appointed by the National Assembly and serve non-renewable 12-year terms. Appointments are made by a two-thirds majority, or a simple majority if efforts to appoint a judge fail three times in a row. Under article 265 of the 1999 Constitution, judges may be removed by a two-thirds majority of the National Assembly, if the Attorney General, Comptroller General, and Human Rights Ombudsperson have previously agreed a "serious failure" and suspended the judge accordingly.
The Tribunal was created under the 1999 Constitution of Venezuela, replacing the Supreme Court of Venezuela. For some years provisional statutes regulated the number of judges – initially 20, with three in each chamber except the constitutional, which had five – and their selection. The statutes were replaced in 2004 by an organic law (a law required to clarify constitutional provisions). The law also permitted the National Assembly to revoke the appointment of a judge, by a simple majority, where a judge had provided false information as to his/her credentials.
Crisis in Bolivarian Venezuela
Venezuela's protesters set fire to the executive directorate of the judiciary of the Supreme Court in the Chacao municipality on 12 June 2017. Violence broke out in protests at the Supreme Court over a bid to change the Constitution. On 27 June 2017, a helicopter attacked the TSJ building with gunfire and grenades.
Supreme Tribunal of Justice in exile
The discontent with the Bolivarian government saw the opposition being elected to hold the majority in the National Assembly of Venezuela for the first time since 1999 following the 2015 Parliamentary Election. As a result of that election, the lame duck National Assembly consisting of Bolivarian officials filled the Supreme Tribunal of Justice with their allies.
Following months of unrest surrounding the recall referendum against President Maduro in 2016, on 29 March 2017 the Bolivarian Supreme Tribunal of Justice ruled that the National Assembly was "in a situation of contempt", because of the aforementioned rulings against the election of some of its members. It stripped the Assembly of legislative powers, and took those powers for itself; which meant that the Court would have been able to create laws. The court did not indicate if or when it might hand power back. As a result of the ruling, the 2017 Venezuelan protests began surrounding the constitutional crisis, with the Bolivarian Supreme Tribunal of Justice reversing its ruling on 1 April 2017.
After being stripped of power during the constitutional crisis and the call for a rewriting of the constitution by the Bolivarian government, opposition-led National Assembly of Venezuela created a Judicial Nominations Committee on 13 June 2017 to elect new members of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice. On 12 July 2017, Ombudsman Tarek Saab, head of the Moral Council of Venezuela, said that the call for new magistrates would not be officially recognized by the Bolivarian government and that the magistrates already appointed by the lame duck Bolivarian National Assembly would instead continue to be recognized. Despite the rejection of recognition by the Bolivarian government, the opposition-led National Assembly then voted 33 magistrates into office on 21 July 2017, creating a de jure Supreme Tribunal of Justice separate from the Bolivarian government.
Venezuela's judicial system has been deemed the most corrupt in the world by Transparency International in 2014. Human Rights Watch claimed that in 2004, President Hugo Chávez and his allies took over the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, filling it with his supporters and adding measures so the government could dismiss justices from the court. In 2010, legislators from Chávez’s political party appointed nine permanent judges and 32 stand-ins, which included several allies. They claimed that some judges may face reprisals if they rule against government interests.
It has also been alleged that the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, with the majority supporting Chávez, elected officials to the supposedly non-partisan National Electoral Council of Venezuela, despite the 1999 Constitution empowering the National Assembly of Venezuela to perform that action. This resulted in Chavistas making up a majority of the electoral council's board.
After Chávez' death and with Nicolás Maduro as president, following the 2015 National Assembly election, the lame duck National Assembly, the majority of whom were Bolivarian supporters, filled the Supreme Tribunal of Justice with Maduro allies. The tribunal then quickly stripped three new opposition lawmakers of their National Assembly seats in early 2016, citing alleged "irregularities" in their elections, thereby preventing an opposition supermajority which would have been able to challenge Maduro. The tribunal then approved several actions by Maduro and granted him more powers.
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- "Venezuela's Lame-Duck Congress Names New Supreme Court Justices". Bloomberg. 23 December 2015. Retrieved 15 January 2019.
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