July 30, 2020 / 12:31 AM / 7 days ago

Argentina's Fernandez launches judicial shake-up to curb court power

BUENOS AIRES, July 29 (Reuters) - Argentina’s government on Wednesday launched a bid to reform the judiciary by increasing the number of federal courts, diluting the power of those that already exist, in what the opposition has labelled as an attempt to manipulate the court system.

The South American country’s courts have been repeatedly accused in recent decades of pro-government bias and the reform was one of the first pledges of the new president, Alberto Fernandez on taking office in December.

A bill has been drafted to increase the number of federal courts from 12 to 46 and will be sent to congress this week, the government said.

“We must end the concentration of federal justice,” Justice Minister Marcela Losardo told Reuters.

The government has a majority in the senate, but not in the lower house, where the plan could face amendments or rejection.

The center-left president also announced the formation of an advisory commission made up of 11 experts to assess what additional changes might need to be made to the judiciary.

That move has triggered claims in opposition circles about a potential bid by the government to hobble the independence of the Supreme Court.

Some members of the ruling coalition have cases pending in the courts for corruption, including the current vicepresident and former president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.

“There is an obvious driver here that is the search for impunity,” constitutional lawyer Roberto Gargarella said on local radio.

The government rejected the claims.

“We have heard the claims that this reform suits the government or the vice president’s bids for impunity. Nothing is further from reality. Those currently in the system will continue to have their cases tried by the same judges,” Minister Losardo told Reuters. (Reporting by Nicolas Misculin, writing by Aislinn Laing, editing by Richard Pullin)

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