Sortition for judges on the ballot in Switzerland

Posted on by Yoram Gat

The Swiss Radio Lac reports:

Sortition is proposed

[In addition to other proposals] the Swiss will also have to vote [on November 28th] on the proposition regarding the judicial system. The proposition would institute appointment of judges using sortition in order to make them more independent. Official languages would have to be equitably represented and the judges would be able to serve up to 5 years beyond the normal age of retirement.

Parliament has rejected the text, without offering a counter-proposition, either direct or indirect. According to the elected, sortition would not guarantee better independence or better equality. Moreover, it would damage the democratic legitimacy of the judges.

Judges in Switzerland are currently appointed by the Swiss Parliament and they need to be re-appointed periodically. The notion that this provides judges with “democratic legitimacy” runs against standard liberal dogma:

At present, the Swiss parliament awards the posts of federal judge according to party strength. Judges with no political affiliation thus have no chance of gaining office.

When a judge is elected, she or he has to hand over money to the party – the so-called mandate tax, which is unique in the world, and constitutes an important source of funding for parties. In return, the judge can count on party support when it comes to re-election.

In this system, the judiciary is therefore politicised. Judges can be influenced by their party membership when passing verdicts, as studies have shown. And not just out of ideological considerations. Parties sometimes also exert tangible pressure. If they do not approve of a ruling, they can threaten not to re-elect the judge.

This mutual dependence calls into question the independence of the judiciary and the separation of powers. […] The Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) has also rebuked Switzerland.

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