The fees of the private preparer, who charges about 250 euros per month; the price of manuals and materials; and the support of a person who dedicates between eight and ten hours a day to study, which makes this task practically incompatible with the performance of any job that allows obtaining income. And, all this, for around five years, which is the average time it takes an opponent to access the race. This is the cost of being a judge or prosecutor in Spain, a price that not everyone can afford and that is not compensated by public scholarships, which are practically non-existent.
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The analysis of this reality led the association Judges and Judges for Democracy, with a progressive scope, to establish at the end of 2020 a pool of trainers to offer free training to opponents without resources. The initiative was later joined by the Progressive Union of Prosecutors (UPF). These altruistic trainers undertake to supervise the oral presentations of the topics for four years and to prepare the multiple choice exam with the applicants, providing them with models and exercises. A score of opponents have already been interested in the initiative in which there is a deadline to apply until the end of February. The number of preparers is around 25.
“There is a certain profile of opponents without resources or of humble families that cannot access the race due to the high expenses of the opposition – between trainers and materials – or because not all families can allow a child to dedicate himself solely to studying for so many years. The opposition requires an average of at least eight hours of study a day and it is very difficult to combine that with a job and pass. Whoever gets it is at a clear disadvantage over the rest, “says magistrate Fernando de la Fuente , one of the promoters of the initiative.
The program is an attempt to alleviate this inequality. In fact, the access bases value income and academic record: it limits to 6,000 gross euros per person and year the income per capita per member of the family unit of applicants for this free preparation, who must also have an average of seven in the Law career, which can be excepted if there are special circumstances such as compatibility with work or a specific family or health situation that would have led to a lower grade.
According to data from the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ), 98.4% of the opponents of class 69 – the last to enter the career – needed family financial help to prepare for the opposition. And only 4.8% enjoyed a scholarship, which are barely non-existent. The only public aid currently in force are the forty granted by the Basque Country and which are endowed with 550 euros per month. The Ministry of Justice, through the Center for Legal Studies, convened in 2008 a scholarship program for opponents of judicial and prosecutorial careers, but it barely lasted one year. The economic crisis and cuts also devastated this program.
At the state level, there is only private aid granted to opponents without resources by the majority associations – the conservative Professional Association of the Magistracy (APM) and the moderate Francisco de Vitoria Judicial Association (AJFV) – and financed by Banco Santander. The fact that a bank is the financier of this aid generates suspicions in some sectors of the judiciary, although the associations that maintain these agreements defend that in no case do they compromise the independence of the actions of future judges.
“If someone thinks that having removed the opposition with the help of Banco Santander is going to involve a link for the purposes of court decisions, it is that they know very little about the judges,” says María Jesús del Barco, spokesperson for the APM, who assures that Some members of their association prepare the beneficiaries for free so that they can dedicate the money from the scholarship to the purchase of materials or maintenance. Jorge Fernández Vaquero, spokesman for the AJFV, also defends these agreements, although he admits that they are not the solution and insists on the need for a structural system of public aid.
Both UPF and the Professional and Independent Association of Prosecutors (APIF) reject any type of private sponsorship or subsidy and argue that these agreements with financial entities can generate a “distorted image” of the Justice. De la Fuente, Judges and Judges for Democracy, does not see these scholarships appropriate either. “I do not consider them convenient because entities can be part of judicial proceedings. It is a task that the State has to do,” he says.
What the associations do agree on is the need for public scholarships to be launched to guarantee equal access to the judiciary. “It would be extraordinary,” says the APM spokeswoman. “The State has to ensure that all people, regardless of their economic or social origin, have equal opportunities in access to public service,” adds De la Fuente. In fact, Judges and Judges for Democracy has accompanied this initiative with a proposal for public scholarships that has been sent to the Ministry of Justice, where initiatives to “democratize” access to Justice are being studied, according to a spokesperson.
Meanwhile, the initiative of altruistic trainers has brought to light a substantive debate: the difficulty that people without resources or with limited resources have to approve the opposition and the effects that this has on the race for purposes of pluralism.
“People have different sensitivities according to their origin, training or socioeconomic situation and all of them should have access and be represented in the Judiciary just as they should be in Parliament. The main core of opponents is middle class, but the A sector of people with few resources is not represented, which distances the career of certain social sectors. The judicial career has to be a faithful reflection of society and the best way for Justice to be truly credible is that everyone can be a judge, “says De la Fuente, of Judges and Judges for Democracy.
Fernández Vaquero, from the AJFV, nevertheless believes that the reality of the judiciary is not very different from that which exists in other powers of the State and argues that the judicial career “is very similar to Spanish society.” “Surely in the Congress of Deputies there is an overrepresentation of university graduates compared to those in society as a whole. But that does not mean that they do not represent it. People with few resources cannot be identified as something monolithic” , stresses.
Judge María Jesús del Barco, of the APM, does not even believe that there is an entry bias in the career that vetoes access to the most disadvantaged people. “It seems to me classist to think that only the rich study or to think that one who does not have money does not have the capacity to make an effort. People who do not have resources are also capable of studying and making an effort. I am from a not favored extraction and I approved the opposition because he knew the agenda. The opposition is the best social elevator for middle-class people, “says Del Barco, who proudly states that she belongs to the first generation of university students in her family.