Wednesday, 23 April 2008

President Lagos: We can make a greater effort to make yesterday’s and today’s trials equally just PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 18 June 2005

ImageThe President of the Republic, Ricardo Lagos, announced that the next step for Chile’s new criminal trial system will be "to integrate the old justice system with the new one, so that we can stop discrimination." He added that "now the new justice system is in effect throughout the country, but cases which were opened as recently as the day before yesterday will be tried under the old system. That is clearly a case of discrimination. I think that as a Government, we can make a greater effort to make yesterday’s and today’s trials equally just for our citizens."

He added on that note that "I think it is absolutely necessary to try to pass this law; just as we were able to come together to agree on the original reform, I hope and trust that it will also be possible to do this as well."

The President made these statements after a ceremony which officially implemented the new criminal procedure system in the Metropolitan Region—the last step in the nation-wide implementation of the reforms. The First Lady, Luisa Durán, and the Minister of Justice, Luis Bates, accompanied the President at the event, which took place in Guarantee Court Module 4 of the Santiago Justice Center. Lagos was also joined there by the National Prosecutor, Guillermo Piedrabuena; the Head Public Defender, Rodrigo Quintana; the President of the Supreme Court, Marcos Libedinski; and other military and civilian authorities.

At the ceremony, which commemorated the end of the fifth and final phase of a reform process that began in the mid-1990s, President Lagos stated that "we have made Chile a country where it is possible to design and implement a plan over a span of ten years. It would have been easier to leave things as they were, to just pump more money into the Justice budget; but instead, we have changed the way justice is done here. Chile and its Government proposed, developed and now implemented wide-ranging public policies in a time of democracy."

Later, the President praised the results to date of the implementation of the reform in the rest of the country, emphasizing the speed and transparency with which the trials are conducted. "To date, we have had impressive results. The average trial under the old system lasted a bit longer than three years. Today, verdicts come within seven months, on average; theft cases are resolved within an average of 45 days; crimes against persons are resolved within 62 days, on average; and crimes against property take an average of 66 days to be resolved," he reported.

He also added that as of December 31, 2004, 90% of the cases taken up under the new system had been resolved, and of the cases that go to oral trial, 91% end in convictions. "This is undoubtedly quite striking to see, for the reasons that the President of the Supreme Court explained: under the old system, there were trials that lasted for up to 25 years. Now, with the reform in place, they cannot last any long than two," he said.

President Lagos also highlighted the fact that implementation of the reform has come at a cost of more than 342 billion pesos. "During the hard years, when we had low economic growth, it was very hard to maintain the spending that was necessary for this reform. It’s not easy—and I’m sure [former] President Aylwin will agree with me on this—to have the Budget Director come to you and say, ‘I can’t raise spending on this by more than 5%, and I’m warning you, Mr. President, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd phases of the reform went over-budget by more than 5%.’ That was what happened," he pointed out.

However, he did express thanks for the political consensus that did finally allow for complete funding of the reform: "All of Chile should be happy—not just one particular political administration—about our ability to make long-term policy decisions, and then follow through with them step-by-step; this is one of the most important achievements we’ve made from a political point of view."

In his speech, President Lagos highlighted the wider reach of the justice system, manifested in a higher number of Judges, new Prosecutors and Public Defenders. He predicted that "there will be an increase in the amount of criminal cases—not in the amount of crimes, mind you, but in the amount of cases—but in the long-term, crime will decrease."

Among other challenges that lie ahead, said the President, a modernization of judicial procedures in family and labor courts will be necessary, "and we hope that there will soon be a greater number of tax courts as well."

Guarantee Court Module 4 of the Santiago Justice Center is the first court building to be opened as part of the Criminal Procedure Reform in the Metropolitan Region, and one of four of its kind. Each of the four Modules is ten stories high, in addition to basement areas for technical and archival facilities.

With more than 13,000 square meters of space, this building will initially house ten Guarantee Courtrooms, whose Judges will be in charge of making sure that the rights of the victims, witnesses and the defendant involved in every case are protected while that case is under investigation.

Two oral criminal courtrooms have also been opened, each one with three Judges who will listen to and facilitate debate during the trials; at the end of each trial, they will determine the guilt or innocence of the defendant.

In all, Module 4 houses 38 courtrooms, two multipurpose rooms, 38 offices for Judges and 120 waiting rooms for witnesses. The building also includes two passageways, as well as 74 cells, specifically for prisoners and defendants, and independent entrances for the public, the Judges, officials and prisoners. Meanwhile, there are two elevators for the public, three for Judges and officials, and two more for defendants and prisoners.

Chile's Criminal Procedure Reform

After its successful implementation elsewhere in the country, Chile’s Criminal Procedure Reform was applied to the Metropolitan Region on June 16. This marks the fifth and final stage of the country’s judicial reform process, which began six years ago with the creation of the Office of the Public Prosecutor and the naming of a National Prosecutor, Guillermo Piedrabuena.

The region will have 371 judges dedicated exclusively to criminal cases, who will hear arguments and hand down sentences based on oral proceedings. This figure is far above the previous level of 50 criminal court judges, who were responsible for investigation and indictment as well as sentencing. The Office of the Public Prosecutor will employ 276 prosecutors, who will now assume the task of investigating crimes, as well as 56 public defenders and 115 legal services attorneys to ensure that low-income defendants receive adequate representation.

The Reform’s arrival will also mark a generational change: the average age of the public prosecutors is 31, while that of the defense attorneys is 33.

The greatest advantages of the new system – which features oral trials open to the public, as well as explicit guarantees of individual rights – are its efficiency, speed and transparency. Under the old system, it took approximately two years to obtain a sentence from the court of first resort, while the average under the Reform is six to twelve months. Ninety percent of the 485,796 cases handled under the new system during 2004 have been successfully brought to a conclusion, with the proclamation of a sentence.

Among its general principles, the Reform establishes the presumption of innocence, the right to legal defense for the accused, and the right to legal protection for crime victims. In one of the most striking departures from the old system, victims are considered "participating" parties, with expressly-recognized rights and an active role in the new criminal trial process.

In practical terms, this means that the courts cannot dismiss or shelve a case without first informing the victims and giving them an opportunity to be heard.

For the final stage of the reform, the State is investing more than 240 million dollars, approximately 133 million of which will be dedicated to infrastructure. The new Justice Center in Santiago – a nine-building complex covering a total of 220,000 square meters – will serve as the headquarters for oral trials and criminal court judges, as well as for prosecutors employed by the Office of the Public Prosecutor. The center, which will also include parking areas, food courts and notarial offices, is the country’s most significant public construction project in 50 years.

For further information go to


< Prev   Next >