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Justice Joaquim Barbosa takes office as president of the STF

Thursday, November 22, 2012

At the age of 58, Justice Joaquim Barbosa reaches the highest position of the Brazilian Judiciary to become the 55th President of the Supreme Court since the Empire and the 44th since the proclamation of the Republic. Born in Paracatu and the 9th Justice from the State of Minas Gerais in the Presidency of the STF, Joaquim Barbosa is the first black justice to take office as president of the Court and rapporteur of the longer case in number of pages in the history of the Court - Criminal Action (AP) 470, which comprised in its beginning 40 defendants and over 50,000 pages in its dockets.

Justice Joaquim Barbosa composes the Supreme Court since June 25, 2003. He has also composed the Superior Electoral Court between 2006 and 2009, becoming the Vice-president of the TSE on May 6, 2006. On June 13th, 2012, Justice Joaquim Barbosa chaired his first plenary session of the Supreme Court, temporarily taking the Presidency of the Court, during an official foreign trip of the president, Justice Ayres Britto. Member of the Court for nine years, since June 25, 2003, Justice Joaquim Barbosa became vice-president on April 19th, 2012.


Born in the town of Paracatu, Minas Gerais, on October 7, 1954, Joaquim Benedito Barbosa Gomes attended the elementary course at the school Dom Serafim Gomes Jardim and State Public School Antonio Carlos. He lived in Brasília between 1971 and 1988, where he attended the secondary education at the public school Elefante Branco in Brasilia. He graduated in Law from the University of Brasilia (UNB) in 1979.He also pursued complementary courses in foreign languages in Brazil, England, U.S., Austria and Germany.

Justice Joaquim Barbosa has extensive experience in public administration, prior to his appointment to the Supreme Court. Initially working in the Federal Prosecutor's Office (MPF), he took the position of Attorney General through public examination. He belonged to the MPF between 1984 and 2003, when he took office as a Justice of STF by appointment of the President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. In MPF, Joaquim Barbosa served as prosecutor in the Federal Court of First Instance of Brasília, and in the federal courts along the 1st and the 2nd Region.

In his professional experience he was Head of the Legal Advisory of the Ministry of Health (1985-88); He was a lawyer to the Federal Data Processing Service - SERPRO (1979-84); he was a Chancellery Officer of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (1976-1979) at the Embassy of Brazil in Helsinki, Finland; he was also a typesetter in the Graphic Centre in the Federal Senate from December 1973 to November 1976.

He also provided legal advice to national and international organizations that support and promote human rights, including the Ford Foundation and the Institute of International Education - IIE, from the United States, and joined the Board of Directors of CARE Brazil and Global Justice.

In parallel to the exercise of positions in the public service, he maintained close links with the academia. He is a Professor from the Faculty of Law of the Rio de Janeiro State University (UERJ) where he taught Constitutional Law and Administrative Law. He holds a Ph.D. and a Master’s degree in Public Law from the University of Paris II (Panthéon-Assas) where he followed an extensive doctoral program from 1988 to 1992 which resulted in his obtaining three post graduate diplomas.He also completed a Master’s degree program in Law and State from the University of Brasilia (1980-82).; He was a Visiting Scholar (1999-200) in the Human Rights Institute da Columbia University School of Law, New York, and in the University of California Los Angeles School of Law (2002-2003). . He is a frequent lecturer, both in Brazil and abroad and he was recipient of research grants from CNPq (1988-92), the Ford Foundation (1999-2000) and the Fulbright Foundation (2002-2003).


He is author of the works: “La Cour Suprême dans le Système Politique Brésilien”, published in France in 1994 by the Librairie Générale de Droit et de Jurisprudence (LGDJ), in the collection “Bibliothèque Constitutionnelle et de Science Politique”; “Ação Afirmativa & Princípio Constitucional da Igualdade. O Direito como Instrumento de Transformação Social. A Experiência dos EUA” (Affirmative action and the constitutional principle of equality. The law as an instrument of social Transformation. The U.S. Experience), Published by Editora Renovar, Rio de Janeiro, 2001; and numerous articles of jurisprudence.


The taking of office ceremony of the new President of the Court, Justice Joaquim Barbosa, and of the vice president, Justice Ricardo Lewandowski, held on Thursday (22) at the Plenary of the Supreme Court, was attended by the President of Republic Dilma Rousseff, and chairmen of the House of Representatives, Marco Maia, and the Senate, José Sarney. The ceremony was attended by about 1,500 guests, including officers of the Three Powers, prosecutors,representatives from associations and Brazilian artists.

Justice Joaquim Barbosa was honored by the Attorney General of the Republic, Roberto Gurgel, the president of the Brazilian Bar Association (OAB), Ophir Cavalcante, and Justice Luiz Fux, who spoke on behalf of the other members of the STF.

The President of the STF says that concepts of justice and equality are inseparable

In his inaugural speech as president of the Federal Supreme  Court (STF),Justice Joaquim Barbosa said, on Thursday (22), that the concept of justice is inseparable from the equality of rights. He advocated the need for judges to effectively insert themselves in the society which they live, without staying absent from it, while maintaining their freedom to judge.

"Justice by itself and for itself does not exist" he noted. "It only exists in the shape and dimension that men want and conceive it. Justice is human, is historical. There is no justice without law or culture. Justice is the innate element of social behavior. That’s the reason why the idea of justice is inseparable from the idea of equality. That is to say: material equality of rights, whether they are legally established or morally required. "
Thus, according to him, all citizens should have "the most sacred right of the rights, which is to be treated equally and receive the same consideration, the same one given to the every citizen, 'A', 'B' or 'C' ".


Justice Barbosa admitted that, "when talking about the right to equality, one must have the intellectual honesty to recognize that there is a large deficit of justice between us." According to him, "not all Brazilians are treated with equal consideration when seeking the public service of justice". "Instead of granting the citizen the restoration of their rights, the same treatment and consideration that is given to a few people, something that happens here and there - not always, but of course, sometimes - it is a privileged treatment, a preference without any rational foundation."

"Billions are spent annually to ensure a proper functioning of the judicial machinery," he recalled. "However, it is import to say: the Judiciary we aspire to have is a simple Judiciary. What we seek is a fast, effective and fair Judiciary". "Sumptuous buildings, sophisticated information and communication systems are worthless if, in the essential issues, justice fails. It fails because it was provided late and, often, because it provides a service that is not immediately available to the person who sought ".

He advocated an urgent improvement of the adjudication system, especially in making effective the constitutional principle of reasonable duration of the process. "If this principle is not observed in every body of the Judiciary, it will soon set up a scarecrow able to drive away productive investment that the national economy needs" he warned.

When speaking of the Judiciary the country should have, he portrayed what should be avoided: "cases accumulated in the rooms of magistrates; claims of millions that linger for several years, a myriad of resources used by those who do not want the progress of the case, and finally, the four levels of jurisdiction that our legal system allows". "A justice system that fails, that is not engaged to its effectiveness, is a justice which impacts direct and negatively on people's lives," he claimed.

The judge

"The judge should consider the secularism of his constitutional mission and ensure that his most intimate convictions and beliefs do not contaminate his activity, the more relevant to the social living and important factor to the functioning of a modern economy, a dynamic society, inclusive and open to any changes that bring improvements to people's lives, "he said.

According to him, "it belongs to the past the image of a judge who remains distant, indifferent to the fundamental values and the expectations of the society in which he operates". Thus, although he must maintain his independence and freedom to decide, without adhering blindly to any outcry from the community he serves, and he also should, in the exercise of his constitutional function, "poise and take into consideration the more cherished values of the society in which he operates." In other words, according to him, "the judge is a product of his environment and time. There is nothing more outdated and unwanted than the model of an isolated judge, closed upon himself as if in an ivory tower.

On the other hand, the new President of the STF defended the need to strengthen the independence of the judge "avoiding, since the beginning of his career, the many harmful influences that may gradually undermine his independence." According to Justice Joaquim Barbosa, "these bad influences can manifest both in the frames of the hierarchy tothe young judge is subjected, as well as in the political ties that he may, sometimes, pursue in the natural and human quest for career and professional development."

"Nothing justifies, in my experience, the unedifying seeking of support for a simple promotion from the 1st to the 2nd degree of jurisdiction," he noted. "The judge, as well as the members of other important careers of the State, must know in advance, what are their real prospects for progression, and do not seek them through the approach to the dominant political power at the time.

Finally, Justice Joaquim Barbosa considered positive the fact that the Judiciary is going "through major changes and an unprecedented insertion in Brazilian institutional life." He recalled, in this context, that the Supreme Court "is increasingly discussing issues of interest to the lives of citizens." And that, in his point view, "is very good, very positive."


The new vice-president of the Supreme Court, Enrique Ricardo Lewandowski, is a Justice of the STF since March 16, 2006, when he took office in the vacancy generated with the retirement of Justice Carlos Velloso, a nominee of President Lula. In June 2006, he joined the Superior Electoral Court (TSE) and, becoming president for a tenure of  two years and conducted the 2010 general elections.

Prior to coming to the STF, Justice Ricardo Lewandowski was Judge of the Criminal Court of Appeals of the State of São Paulo and Judge of the Court of Justice of the State of São Paulo (TJ/SP). He graduated in Political and Social Sciences and Law from the University of São Paulo (USP), from where he holds a Master’s and  a PhD degree; he is also a lecturer in Law and holds a Master’s degree in International Relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, from Tufts University, in cooperation with Harvard University, USA. He is also Professor of State Theory at the School of Law at USP.

Justice Ricardo Lewandowski was elected Vice President of the STF on October 10, following the Court’s tradition, having received nine of the ten possible votes, as it is customary in the Supreme Court, the elected not voting for himself.


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