In republican systems of government such as Puerto Rico’s, the judicial branch is responsible for interpreting the law and ensuring the rule of law. In accordance with that role, the judicial branch, in addition to ensuring the individual rights and freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights of the Commonwealth Constitution (Article 2), also:
- Is in charge of resolving cases, controversies and conflicts between people that are brought before it for consideration with independence, diligence, sensitivity and impartiality, ensuring the parties’ constitutional rights and freedoms.
- Maintains the institutional order of the state, based on the principle of separation of powers, preventing the other branches of government from exceeding the limits imposed on them by the Constitution. This mission includes the power to evaluate the constitutionality of laws approved by the Legislature and the policies implemented by the executive branch when the issue is brought before the court’s consideration. This evaluation function, of course, extends to pertinent issues in the organization of elections and the administrative decisions of the agencies that supervise the process of political power succession.
- Brings stability to the judicial code and the state in general. The legitimacy of the state depends on the level of stability and confidence in the judicial system. The proper functioning of the system, in turn, depends on its competence and independence.
The official mission adopted by the Puerto Rican judicial system in meeting its constitutional obligations also includes the principle that the judicial branch must be accessible to all people and will be diligent in adjudicating issues before it for consideration. Diligent means that issues and controversies will be resolved quickly, using efficient means and methods, and ensuring just and impartial treatment. At the same time, it must also be socially sensitive. In other words, it must respond to the social reality of the island, promoting strategies that address the most relevant problems in society, taking into consideration the continual transformations in social life and in the population’s attitudes and aspirations. This social responsibility includes promoting integrated actions with governmental and non-governmental entities that tend to lead to greater attention to public affairs. Another important issue for the judiciary is to ensure that all people have proper legal representation when they appear before the courts as part of litigation.
In terms of administration of the system, the mission recognizes the need to be innovative in providing services. It must be up to date with technological advances in information systems and services. A working commitment to administrative competence is essential for gaining public confidence. This confidence is achieved through two parallel actions: providing efficient service that meets the expectations of the citizens (and is independent of political powers) and the institutional habit of providing an accounting of its own performance. This mission accepts the idea that the public confidence is, in the end, the primary objective of any judicial system. Without it, it is not possible to live in harmony and freedom.
Author: Roberto Gándara Sánchez
Published: September 11, 2014.
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