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Judicial magistrate and Public Ministry councils call for alteration in court officer legislation 17 Agosto 2015

Minister of Justice José Carlos Correia has declined A Semana Online’s request for comments on the demands of Cape Verde’s court officials, referring journalists to the High Council of Judicial Magistrates and the High Council of the Public Ministry. Meanwhile, High Council of Judicial Magistrates secretary Joaquim Semedo claims that the council inherited the situation the court officers “as is” and that the issue is out of the hands of the two councils, and is indeed the responsibility of the Justice Ministry – the entity that contracts these professionals, who are paid through the General Justice Fund. The High Council of the Public Ministry, for its part, has issued a communiqué suggesting that the solution for the problems faced by court officers might necessitate alterations in current legislation.

Judicial magistrate and Public Ministry councils call for alteration in court officer legislation

The secretary of the High Council of Judicial Magistrates explains that the situation of Cape Verde’s justice officers, who sought out A Semana Online to denounce their professional situation, was “inherited” in January 2013, when the management of court officers and bailiffs, previously under the custodianship of the Justice Ministry, was handed over to the High Council of Judicial Magistrates and the High Council of the Public Ministry (Cape Verde’s Prosecutor General’s office). These entities, according to Joaquim Semedo, were given a budget aimed merely at transferring and integrating these officers in the various different district court jurisdictions in the country.

At the time, continues Semedo, the two Councils held a training course aimed at promoting the 15 bailiffs who had spent more than six years in their jobs to the level of assistant court clerk, and, in order to save time and money, the group of officials hired from the course was integrated into the Council’s payroll.

“The Court Officers’ Statute stipulates that officials should wait for the transition to the Justice Ministry payroll before being promoted to assistant court clerk, meaning that they depend on funding and vacancies. The time of service as bailiffs is not supposed to surpass six years. These officials, who were hired by the Justice Ministry, did not fit these prerequisites. This is why priority was given to officers with a longer service time. In this case, those who had been on the job for more than nine years were promoted in 2014,” says Semedo, who stresses that the assistant court clerk course remains valid for five years and not two.

Semedo also affirms that the High Council of Judicial Magistrates has fulfilled its part in terms of training. However, it can neither hire nor promote officers because the government has not given it the authority to do so, or the budget to pay for their wages and other expenses. The magistrate warns that the process of these officers depends on legislation that has to be passed by the government and not on any deliberation on the part of either of the high councils. As such, he believes that the government, particularly through the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Finances, is the entity that should bring the issue up for discussion in the Council of Ministers.

Alleged discrimination in district courts

With regards to the discrimination the court officers claim to be suffering in district courts, Joaquim Semedo says the group has always been recognized as court officers by the High Council of Judicial Magistrates, and finds this criticism strange given that so far “the High Council of Judicial Magistrates has not received any complaints from court officers alleging discriminatory treatment in the district courts.”

As far as contractual problems are concerned, Semedo affirms that he became aware of the problem informally during visits to different district courts, accompanied by officials from the High Council of the Public Ministry. Semedo explains that he informed the group that the resolution of the problem is beyond the authority of both the High Council of Judicial Magistrates and the High Council of the Public Ministry, and is, rather, an issue that can only be dealt with by the government. In Semedo’s understanding, it is the Ministries of Justice and Finances that should discuss the issue in the Council of Ministers, because, he says, “the contracting and promotion of the group implies considerable resources.”

On this note, Joaquim Semedo reveals that the executive has been aware of the problems being faced by the court officers since 2012, when, during various different meetings, High Council of Judicial Magistrates officials discussed the situation with Justice Ministry officials. In Semedo’s view, the Justice Minister “should have something to say about the issue, since the officers are paid by the Justice Ministry Fund and not by the High Councils of Judicial Magistrates or the Public Ministry.” He adds that the Justice Minister has even been given a counterproposal regarding the Court Officers’ Statute, which has long been awaiting revision.

High Council of Public Ministry wants alteration in law

Also concerned with the situation of Cape Verde’s court officers is the High Council of the Public Ministry, which has, in the meantime, tried to solve the issue within the limits of its “constitutional and legal” authority.

“Effectively, these are people hired by the Justice Ministry in 2008 to perform court officer functions in judicial secretariats and in the Public Ministry, and whose entry onto the court officer payroll necessarily requires legislative alterations,” according to a communiqué from the High Council of the Public Ministry.

Referring to diligences carried out with the aim of regularizing the situation, the Public Ministry High Council affirms that in September of 2014 it presented “the Justice Ministry with a proposal for the alteration of the Court Officers’ Statutes in order to resolve the situation of those under contractual regime, and, in 2015, issued an official opinion about the proposal for the alteration of the Statutes received from the Justice Ministry.” The Council says it introduced “proposal for specific provisions that, if absorbed, would definitively resolve the situation of the officers” in question.

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