Judges should have term restrictions

Federal judge wants election for life

The pressure of politics on the judiciary is increasing, complains a federal judge. The independence of the judges must therefore be strengthened, for example through an election for life.

It is a gloomy picture that the Obwalden SP federal judge Niccoló Raselli paints in an article in the latest edition of the Swiss judges newspaper. The "just as valuable as fragile property of judicial independence" is in danger. For years, judges have not been touched. "Recently, however, politicians, even party factions, no longer seem to shy away from putting the federal court under pressure to make it compliant for their concerns," writes Raselli.

There are enough examples of harsh criticism of the Supreme Court: for example, after the Federal Supreme Court banned naturalization decisions at the ballot box in 2003 or when it supported the increase in the HVF in May 2011. And after a controversial verdict for violating the anti-racism penal norm in 2004, federal judges were threatened with punishment in the elections.

The federal judges must stand for re-election by parliament every six years. This undermines the separation of powers, writes Raselli. That doesn't change the fact that federal judges are almost never dismissed. Raselli, however, is certain that threats after unpopular judgments work, especially since the federal prosecutor, Erwin Beyeler, missed the re-election: "Such processes should also have a deterrent effect on judges who are not directly affected."

According to Raselli, two measures could help: First, judges should suspend their party membership when they take office. It makes sense that they are elected on the basis of party proportionality so that social values ​​are reflected in the court. But: "Judges are not the extended arm of the political party to which they belong," writes Raselli. Second, the parliament or an extra-parliamentary body should appoint the judges for a longer period of time - be it for life, combined with a term limit or for longer terms of office. A dismissal procedure should guarantee that incompetent judges could still be removed.

Reto Wehrli, President of the Judicial Commission of the Federal Parliament, welcomes the suggestion. “Those who are interested in the state are increasingly aware of attempts to gag the courts. If this continues, the rule of law is at risk, ”says the lawyer and Schwyz CVP national councilor.

Raselli's contribution is badly received by SVP representatives of the commission: The Schwyz National Councilor Pirmin Schwander regards it as imperative that judges have to prove themselves. “The judges resist having their performance assessed. So the elections remain our only means of control, ”says Schwander.

The regular re-election of federal judges even strengthens their legitimacy, says Hermann Bürgi, who calls for more calm. "The judges often see criticism as an insult to majesty," says the Thurgau Council of States and lawyer.