PANAMA CITY.- The Adversarial Criminal System is a protective criminal procedure system for solving criminal acts, in which equality between the parties is granted, as well as their interaction in the process through hearings. The ACS began to be implemented progressively in Panama on September 2, 2011, with the Second Judicial District corresponding to the provinces of Coclé and Veraguas. Each year, other region blocks were incorporated, until finally, this September 2, the system is already in force in the judicial circuits : La Chorrera, San Miguelito, Panama - the capital of the isthmus – as well as Colón, Darién and the regions of Guna Yala and Emberá Wounaan.
So far, the judicial body says that it is unaware of the existence of a draft bill aimed at modifying the deadline, despite the opposition reported throughout the year. Those who oppose it say mainly that the last phase of its implementation will be affected by the lack of financial resources to adjust the judicial structure to the requirements of the new system. They do not only refer to the availability of courtrooms, but the training of the system officials. And we are not only talking about judges and prosecutors, but about the staff from other key organizations such as the Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences. Everything indicates that the only way out would be to request extra resources to the Executive, who incidentally this year happened to cut about $ 138 million to the Judicial Body budget and leave it at $ 119 million, even though it was known that this 2016 it was key to the ACS.
At all cost
“The application of the accusatory criminal system is necessary and non-postponable. All who oppose the system simply prefer a mixed inquisitorial system that failed, collapsed, which does not generate justice, which has led to corruption, impunity, increased judicial default and has violated the rights of the prosecuted," says attorney Ángel Luis Álvarez, who has made his name in the country for being one of the complainants in the case of illegal wiretapping filed in Martinelli’s Government.
For Álvarez, it is a blackmail that the Government has not allocated the budget needed for full implementation of the system. He criticizes that so far the Government has invested more in weapons, rather than the development of the judicial career so necessary for the ACS.
"The training that justice sector officials have received so far has been a feat. Without money you cannot execute anything. Every effort is being made by the Attorney’s Office and the Court’s plenary meeting, despite their differences, for this project to come into effect,” he recognizes.
He also accepts that from this September 2 there will have to be made changes, modifications and adjustments so that the ACS can work, but he is emphatic in stating that most of the difficulties that will arise will be mostly due to "ignorance, rather than the system defects.”
For Álvarez, people who do not care about, are not bothered about, or are indifferent to the system application are because they are neither users nor system receivers.
"I do not want to disqualify civil society members that are opposed to this, because most are my friends, but this is not going to prevent me to say what I think as a litigator, it is that they do not participate in the system nor they completely know what we suffer, as operators under the old system," Álvarez says.
Among the benefits of the ACS, Álvarez highlights that when a person gives his statement under the current system, it takes many years for a judge to receive the evidence of an alleged crime and make a decision. By contrast, with the new system, all testimonies are received before the judge in a period no longer than 10 days.
Álvarez explains that the ACS, which is operating in the United States, "is conceived, is aimed to better fight organized crime, the gangs operating in the country." He highlights that plea bargaining for the cooperation of prosecuted or suspects is the key, making them fundamental parts in the administration of justice.
He says that there are not many organized gangs in Panama, but that the problem for authorities is that they have never been able to reach the heads for more effective disarticulation. "Why? Because under the current system no one cooperates because there is no benefit."
The attorney considers important, valuable, that "since 2011 our prosecutors in the country, including those who are within, are in constant training, coming once a month to Panama to receive training at the US Embassy."
Ángel Álvarez also referred to the appointment of judges to operate the ACS, which has been executed by the magistrate of the Supreme Court of Justice José Ayú Prado, and severely questioned by the society, claiming that in the selection a merit system did not prevail, but a subjective criterion of the judges of the Supreme Court. For our interviewee, although the judicial career has not yet implemented, passed in August 2015, there was no other option but the designation made by the highest court of the nation.
"Many have wanted to see how it was mishandled, that there were handpick designations. But nothing is further from the truth. There was a call, people participated. Those who did not know the system abstained... We, who really are in the system, who do litigate, feel satisfied because if it was not done so, it was not going to be implemented," says the attonery.
The expert says that it is false that the Judicial Career Law will clean the system just for the mere sake of it.
"The ACS cleans it faster because decisions are taken at the time, because there is no room for any calls or agreements backstage or compromise. It is a formula of transparency," he says.
Ángel Álvarez says that in the provinces where the ACS already operates, the results have been measured and are satisfactory. He cites as an example the public jail of Veraguas.
"The percentage of detainees or prisoners being processed does not reach 15%. Exceptionally 20%. When the mixed system operated there, the opposite was true, 80% of prisoners were processed and 20% were convicted. You know that this represents savings in staff and stationery for both prisons and for the Executive Branch?," he says.
He was also one of those who witnessed what happened in the province of Chiriquí on the ACS implementation day. He says it was so exciting, that he asked the system staff that handles the signs of the Public Jail of David to take note and pictures to the figures that were presented in those boards. He says that one of the civil servants of the prison said that there were many times there arrived detainees whose type of case for which they were there was unknown, because the arrest warrant lacked the corresponding office on the process they faced.
"There arrived for the first time to jail detainees with their sentences under their arms, notified and final, product of agreements, direct judgments or summary processes, ready for prison treatment, in terms of one week. If that is not efficient, then how can it be called?,” he concludes.