Strengthening the Constitutional Court of Colombia
Title: Institutional Support for the Constitutional Court in Colombia
Commissioned by: German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
Lead executing agency: Presidential Agency for International Cooperation
Overall term: 2020 to 2023
The Constitutional Court of Colombia was created on the basis of the 1991 Constitution. One of its main tasks is to monitor respect for fundamental and human rights and settle disputes regarding competences between the constitutional bodies. The Court also makes final decisions on legal actions concerning the compatibility of the 2016 peace treaty with the Colombian Constitution. In this way, it contributes to the long-term development of peace in Colombia.
The 1991 Constitution introduced the ‘tutela’ legal remedy, allowing citizens to report state violations of their own fundamental and human rights before a specialised court. A good 13 per cent of all plaintiffs belong to the group of vulnerable persons. In order to harmonise the case law, all tutela judgments then go to the Constitutional Court for review. Out of the approximately 600,000 judgments per year, a court senate selects around 1,000 judgments for review in a free acceptance procedure.
The tutela has great potential for protecting the human rights of individual citizens. However, this is only the case if the system works, if it is accessible to vulnerable groups and if decisions are actually enforced – something that is very uncertain in Colombia. The number of tutela judgments has increased by 800 per cent over the past 20 years, thus clearly surpassing the court’s capacities with its originally defined working methods and modes of operation.
Another challenge that the Constitutional Court faces is choosing which tutela judgments it should look into. Other problems arise due to the length of time required for proceedings and the fact that judgments against state institutions are often impossible to enforce. All of this reduces the credibility of the legal remedy and shakes confidence in the court.
The Constitutional Court’s jurisdiction is more accessible and practicable for all parties involved, the Court’s working methods are becoming more efficient and decisions are effectively implemented.
The project advises the Constitutional Court on harmonising case law and enforcing more tutela judgments. It has three fields of action:
1. Facilitating access to justice:
The project is developing a new design for the Constitutional Court’s web portal with a greatly improved search function for decisions. It promotes the exchange of experience between the participating courts through moderated groups of judges. In addition, with academic articles, it supports the Constitutional Court in systematically mapping out lines of jurisdiction. This improves access to constitutional justice for citizens, the legal professions and the courts.
2. Improving processes at the Constitutional Court:
The project works with the offices of judges to analyse selected work processes and draw up standards for a uniform procedure. For this purpose, it is preparing a ‘judge’s manual’ and an organisational manual. It is establishing a quality circle for the legal staff of the office of records and the judges to support their professional exchanges. As a result, the quality of judicial work at the Constitutional Court is increasing, while the duration of proceedings is decreasing.
3. Enforcing decisions:
Together with interested institutions (Procuraduría de la Nación and Defensoría del Pueblo), the project is determining the state of knowledge with regard to the implementation of Constitutional Court judgments and the resulting need for information. Based on this, it is developing a monitoring system for tutela judgments and testing it for individual fundamental rights in selected regions.
Last update: April 2021