By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Brazil’s Federal Supreme Court (STF) decided on Thursday to restrict privileged forum for federal representatives and senators. By seven votes to four, the Justices decided that federal lawmakers can only have a case heard in the STF if the criminal offense is related to the elected position and committed during the mandate. Otherwise, the case should be referred to the lower courts.
Special jurisdiction privileges entitle authorities who have certain ranks of public office, members of Congress, cabinet members, and the President, to have any and all criminal cases against them litigated in the Supreme Court, even if the case occurred well before they were elected.
On Thursday, many of the Justices argued that politicians use the privileged forum to seek out the more lenient court, depending on jurisdiction and period of the year. The STF has always been seen as the ‘less efficient’ court in terms of rulings, due to its backlog and the limited number of cases Justices may hear during the year.
Sometimes, however, it is in the lawmaker’s best interest to be tried in lower courts. “We have seen situations where a federal representative resigned so that the STF could not judge him. It is no longer possible for the STF to allow maneuvers that prevents the judgment from occurring,” Chief Justice, Carmen Lucia Rocha stated.
“I, as a citizen, feel, and every Brazilian feels, we live in a society in which impunity prevails because of situations like these,” she added.
Although during the hearing, Justices discussed whether the decision should be extended to other posts which have privileged forum, such as cabinet members, higher courts judges and state lawmakers, it was decided only federal lawmakers would suffer restrictions.
But even with the conclusion of the hearing, the legal situation of some representatives and senators now being investigated in Operação Lava Jato (Car Wash Operation) by the STF are still undefined. Some of these lawmakers are being accused of receiving illegal resources to fund their campaigns, therefore actions before they took public office.
For cases which have already been filed, Justices ruled to review them individually, case-to-case, deciding if the accusations should be tried in the STF or in a lower court.