IALL Recap: Recent Developments in Access to Laws and Legal Information in Argentina

By Teresa Miguel-Stearns

digesto_620_350Argentina recently published a digest of laws currently in force in the country in an attempt to make clear to its citizens which laws on the books are actually in effect. The resulting panel was “Development Process of the New Argentine Legal Digesto.”

Our first guest, Ramon Brenna, discussed his 15 years of work on the digest following a law approved by the National Congress to create a digest. But why a digest? And why in Argentina or in any country? According to Mr. Brenna, “The law is a message. It can be the solution to inform the people and to communicate the social demand of the people. This is crucial to any people in any country. The legal system is a collection of rules, laws that regulate life, our lives; and what is more important in the world than our lives? This is a very difficult job to compile all this legislation and legal systems are becoming more opaque; it’s hard to know what is in effect at any given time. The laws regulate our lives from the time before we are born to well after we leave this world. In any society transparency and access is very important.”

Mr. Brenna further explained that beginning in 1999, the government decided that the Argentine legal system was opaque and it was very difficult to access the law; the people did not know the law and didn’t know how to access the law. This was the ethical basis for the intervention — to make Argentine law more known, more accessible, and more human. Argentina has about 27,000 laws on the books, many pertaining to regulating government offices and other obscure and inconsequential regulation, but which makes it very difficult for anyone to find anything. What person could be expected to know 27,000 laws?

As a result of compiling the digest, we’ve gone from 27,000 laws to really only 3,353 laws, or about 10% of what we actually have. Of these, over 1600 are international treaties, which leaves only about 1600 national laws. This is much more manageable.

The Digest is the work of many people — over 120 professors within the Universidad de Buenos Aires alone have reviewed the work, and probably over 300 professionals altogether.

Our next speaker, Daniel Almakr, further explained that Argentina has been passing laws over laws without withdrawing old laws such that there has been a “contamination of laws” and the volume of laws has gotten unmanageable.

Ley 94,667 mandates the State to ensure that the people have access to the laws in force in Argentina and that it is organized for easy access. Our guests worked with the three major publishers as well: Jurisprudencia, La Ley, and El Derecho.

The methodology was in two major stages: normative and documental. Teams of lawyers trained in the analysis of laws, reviewed the national gazettes from 1983 to 2005, and looked back to 1853. They detected and identified laws that had not been contaminated and others that had been abrogated and contaminated. This first review of laws, decrees and resolutions were also examined to see which had been contaminated and others that hadn’t been. They were entered into a database which became huge when they included all the 140,000 laws, decrees, and resolutions. Fully 48,000 laws remained after the first analysis.

The first organizational step was to create a basic thematic index into which every law was inserted by using key words created after significant analysis. The creators attempted to use language that regular citizens would use. The first stage, then, ended with a huge database of all laws organized by theme and with a cross-analysis of what affected what laws. There were about 1300 national laws in force organized thematically and 1600 international treaties.

Our speakers also worked on the projects of other provinces to organize the law of social security and other government ministries in the national government. When finished, there were only 298 resolutions.

An audience member asked, “What is the relationship between the Digest and the Codes?”

Our guests answered, “The analysis includes all the codes. Still, the Codes have incorporated it’s norms and changes over the years, including the recodification of them. The Commercial Code had special treatment because it’s so large.

Another question, “What about the future?”

Answer: “The contamination of laws is extreme and constant. We have a tool for legislators called the Manual de Tecnica Legislativa that advises the explicit derogation or modification of previous laws — the Law of Consolidation.”

Our final speaker of the first session, Susan Cayuso, was incredibly knowledgeable and enthusiastic. She spoke “Case Law and Developments in Legal Information in Argentina.”

The effect of Sentences of the Supreme Court of the Argentine Nation are similar to in the U.S. in that the Argentine Supreme Court is a primary power of the country and acts as a constitutional court. Argentina does not have an independent Constitutional Court. Rather, the Supreme Court diffuses its decisions to other courts. The Supreme Court is not the only decider of cases, but it is the ultimate decider.

This system has proven to be problematic in a republican government. The pronouncement of a sentences is the way that judges interpret the laws that are passed and therefore have a huge influence on democracy. The question is what is the effect the decisions have on the people?

The publicity and publication of the sentence form part of the democratic process.

A Supreme Court decision must be published within 24 – 48 hours for all to access. In the past, there was a huge delay in publishing cases because the Court was pronouncing 250 – 500 cases per week (not including cases were cert was denied). The Court was deciding over 9000 cases per year!

Our speaker then asked herself, “what is best for the citizen? Full-text or summaries/abstracts?” They have created a database and search where the result is a series of items that are aggregated. The database they’ve created certainly competes with the vendors, but it is free. Our speaker noted that this type of job on this grand scale required resources that aren’t available at the universities in Argentina.

“Ultimately, we want to show through the sentences that there have been modifications of the decisions of the Court. We want to show the Court’s development and changes over time.”

Thus, our last morning was filled with insights into the function and organization of Argentine legislation and jurisprudence, and how we might find and utilize both.

IALL Recap: Legal Research in Argentine Law

By Charles Bjork

Palace of Justice Exterior

Palace of Justice Exterior

IALL’s 33rd annual course on international law and legal information in Buenos Aires concluded with presentations about recent developments in Argentine legal research.

In May of 2014, the Argentine National Congress gave its approval to a new Argentine Legal Digest (ALD), which identifies all national laws that are currently in effect, including international treaty provisions to which Argentina is a party, and organizes them by subject. It took many years for a bicameral commission appointed by the congress to compile the ALD. Ramón Brenna, a consultant to the commission, explained that the need for the ALD arose from a combination of “legislative inflation” (the proliferation of laws over time) and “legislative contamination” (the enactment of new laws that modify or implicitly repeal prior laws, either in whole or in part). As a result of these phenomena, it had become increasingly difficult for both legal practitioners and ordinary citizens to determine which laws were currently in effect and being enforced.

Daniel Ricardo Altmark, a member of the Faculty of Law at the University of Buenos Aires who served as the coordinator for the ALD project, described the methodology used to consolidate the session laws. During stage one, teams of legal scholars, practitioners, and legal publishers analyzed all of the laws published in Argentina’s official gazette from its inception to determine which laws were still operative and which ones had been modified or repealed.   This process reduced the number of laws “on the books” from approximately 27,000 to just over 3,500. During stage two, the team members classified and indexed the laws currently in force, assigned descriptors to each major provision, and prepared a table contents. They also developed guidelines for drafting new legislation designed to expedite the consolidation of laws in the future. Eventually, a continuously updated electronic edition of the ALD will be made available online.

Courtroom used by the ICHR

Courtroom used by the ICHR

The next speaker was Susana Cayuso, the Secretary of Argentina’s Supreme Court (Corte Suprema de Justicia de la Nación), which serves as both the final court of appeal and as a constitutional court. Ms. Cayuso described her efforts to make the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence freely accessible to members of the public via the court’s website. Currently, full-text judgments of the Supreme Court are available from 1994 onward. Users can search for judgments by keyword or by party name, docket number, and date. A model search form is available here. In addition, summaries of judgments are also available. Although the Supreme Court lacks the resources necessary to match the search functionality of case law databases developed by commercial vendors, Ms. Cayuso believes that providing free online access to the court’s jurisprudence is essential for maintaining a democratic dialog. In addition, the new database enables the court to conduct a statistical analysis of its caseload.

Courtroom used by the Argentine Supreme Court

Courtroom used by the Argentine Supreme Court

IALL Program Recap: The Destruction of Literature and Librarians in Argentina during the Dictatorship

By Jim Hart

RJ-Book-BurningThis session discussed the organized program by the military junta in Argentina to burn “subversive literature.” The first speaker, Federico Zeballos, had copies of government resolutions ordering the destruction of various titles. These books came from all kinds of libraries, academic, public, school, and even private. Indeed, having heard about the book burning, some people even chose to burn their own books in their backyards, knowing that their homes were not safe from government searches.

The next speaker, Maria Rondine, focused on children’s books and their authors. The government believed that these books would fill children’s heads with communist ideology. This showed how terrified the dictators must have been about their own legitimacy. These books were not only like those that many of us read to our children; they were the same ones!

The last speaker, Alejandra Nardi, told us of the 25 librarians who disappeared as the result of the book burning. She had photos and biographical information on many of them, and showed us a poignant film about the disappearances. It is not an exaggeration to say that everyone was profoundly affected by this presentation. For there but for the grace of God went each one of us.

IALL Program Recap: The Struggle for Human Rights in Argentina

By Jim Hart

This presentation described how individual Argentinians and international organizations worked together to expose the dictators’ crimes against humanity. Essentially, individuals made the international organizations aware of specific crimes. The international organizations then made them public, thus harnessing the power of shame and public opinion outside of Argentina. Cases were brought in international human rights courts and tribunals. Those inside Argentina were then able to bring pressure in the domestic courts and Congress. Eventually, Argentina gave international human rights treaties constitutional status.

Just as developed countries once practiced slavery and then rejected it, perhaps they have now rejected the practice of crimes against humanity.


IALL 2014 Annual Course Part I: Gender & Human Rights

By Charles Bjork

1450119_10100475958347527_6708231589772581974_nIALL’s 33rd annual course on international law and legal information in Buenos Aires got underway with three informative presentations focusing on Gender and Human Rights in Latin America.

The first speaker was Analia Montferrant, an attorney in the Office of Domestic Violence of the Supreme Court of Argentina. The Supreme Court established the Office, known by its Spanish acronym OVD, in 2004 to address the widespread under-reporting of domestic violence in Argentina. The role of the OVD is comparable to that of EEOC in American employment discrimination law.   After verifying an accusation of domestic violence, the OVD’s team of lawyers, psychologists, and social workers makes an initial determination as to whether legal intervention is warranted and then refers the case to the appropriate civil or criminal authorities for prosecution.

Since it became operational in 2008, the OVD has evaluated approximately 60,000 accusations of domestic violence involving more than 80,000 affected persons. Approximately two-thirds of the affected persons are women, one quarter are children, and the remainder are men, primarily elderly men abused by their adult children. The statistics compiled by the OVD help to guide the development of public policies to combat domestic violence. Among the key findings is fact that domestic violence is not confined to working class households but affect persons of all socio-economic backgrounds.

The next speaker was Paola Bergalla, a member of the law faculty at the Universidad de Palermo in Buenos Aires. Professor Bergalla began with brief overview of disputes concerning reproductive rights that have arisen in Latin America during the past 35 years, including assisted reproductive technology, emergency contraception, and abortion. She went on to discuss the impact of Artavia Murillo v. Costa Rica, a case in which the Inter-American Court of Human Rights held that Costa Rica’s absolute ban on in-vitro fertilization (IVF) was in breach of the American Convention on Human Rights. In doing so, the Court applied a proportionality test to balance the rights of infertile couples who want to become parents against the right to life of embryos created via IVF. The Court ultimately concluded that an embryo does not attain the legal status of a person until it is implanted in the womb of the prospective mother. National courts in a several Latin American jurisdictions have begun to cite the decision in the Artavia Murillo case, particularly for its proportionality test and for its treatment of infertility as a disability. Prof. Bergalla concluded her presentation with a summary of the evolution of abortion law in Argentina.

The final speaker was Natalia Gherardi, an attorney with the Latin American Team for Gender Justice, known by its Spanish acronym ELA. She spoke about her organization’s efforts to help bridge the gap between laws on the books designed to promote gender equality and how those laws are applied in practice. In 2009, ELA established a judicial “observatory” to evaluate decisions issued by national courts in Latin America pertaining to the rights of women. The ELA posts each decision on its website in PDF format, along with a brief analysis of the outcome. In addition, the ELA grades each decision based on the extent to which the author(s) of the decision employ gender stereotypes. Decisions that rely on gender stereotypes receive one or more thumbs down, while decisions that eschew gender stereotypes receive one or more thumbs up. The twin goals of the ELA’s judicial observatory are to promote greater understanding of how courts in Latin America resolve disputes concerning the rights of women and to make these decisions more accessible to the public.

IALL Opening Session Recap

By Jim Hart

On Sunday afternoon the National Library of Argentina hosted the opening session of the IALL Conference in the Luis Vargas Auditorium. Jeroen Vervliet, the IALL President, presided over the program that featured Horacio Gonzales, the Library Director, Elisa Barber, the Associate Director, and Professor Lucas Grossman of the University of San Andreas Law Faculty. Dr. Gonzales gave an interesting description of the founding of the Library by Mariano Moreno. Next, Ms. Barber spoke of the importance of the work we do and her pleasure at hosting our conference.

Professor Grossman gave us a scholarly overview of the Argentine legal system, which is a combination of civil and common law systems. Although the Argentine Constitution is modeled on the American one, procedural law is promulgated by the states. The federal government consists of a strong president, a Congress with a House of Representatives and a Senate, and a judiciary with some independence.

This was followed by a tour of some of the Library’s most prized rare books and the Library’s reading rooms and a delightful reception.

The day was topped off by a tour of the lights of Buenos Aires and a good night’s sleep.


Getting To Know You, Buenos Aires

By Jim Hart

Buenos Aires seems to contain all the other cities of the world. It has the barrios of east LA, the gardens of Osaka, the docks of London, the architecture of the 16th arrondissement of Paris, and the skyscrapers of New York, while the countryside around it reminds one of the steppes of central Asia. A tour of the city shows why it is called the Paris of the South. The Ricoleta district was features mansions and palaces of the 19th century French style. Nearby is the serene Japanese garden. The Avenue of the 9th of July is a 460 ft. wide, 12 lane boulevard where the obelisk that celebrates the 400th anniversary of the city’s founding stands.

But the culture of the tango and the beef of the Pampas are ubiquitous. The tango began in the barrios, was rejected by high society, charmed wealthy Parisians, and returned to the embrace of the creme de la creme of Agentine society. Now tourists are encouraged to try it in local clubs.

When you go out to eat, no one will force you to eat meat, but the fragrance will entrance you. Not all of it is beef, but it is all tender and juicy.

Whenever we walked to a cafe or sat down for coffee, we saw friends and colleagues.

Conference; what conference?   I hear it begins this afternoon.