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[经济学人] [2011.10.01] Judicial system: The feeblest branch 司法体系羸弱的分支

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发表于 2011-10-8 15:10 | 显示全部楼层 |阅读模式
The judicial system
司法体系


The feeblest branch
羸弱的分支


An underfunded court system weakens the economy as well as access to justice
一个经费紧张的法院系统不仅是经济状况的糟糕,还有它对实现正义的阻碍




IN THEORY America’s three branches of government are equal. In practice the judiciary is the weakest, as Alexander Hamilton cautioned in “The Federalist Papers”, because it controls neither sword nor purse. Of late, state legislatures and executives have been closing their purses as they struggle to balance tight budgets. At the same time, the federal bench  is being weakened by both stagnant salaries and frozen politics. This is now swelling dockets, delaying cases, and reducing access to the legal system.

理论上,美国政府的立法、行政、司法部门的地位是平等的。但恰如汉密尔顿在《联邦党人文集》中所表述的,没有枪杆子也不管钱袋子的司法,在现实中是最弱的一支。近来,为竭力平衡紧张的预算,各州的立法和行政部门开始紧收钱袋。同时,联邦法院也因薪金涨幅低和政局的僵持受到削弱。而诉讼积压,审判效率低下,立案率走低正是司法系统的现状。

Ask, for example, Katherine Feinstein, the presiding judge of the San Francisco Superior Court (and daughter of Dianne, California’s senior senator). She says that her court narrowly missed “falling off a cliff” last month by getting an emergency loan. But she expects worse later in this fiscal year because California’s current budget, which has already cut court funding by $350m, contains a trigger for even more reductions. Between 15 to 28 of California’s 58 county courts could go over that cliff in the coming year, she thinks.

我们就此访问了旧金山高级法院的首席法官凯瑟琳•范斯坦(加利福尼亚州资深参议员戴安娜•范斯坦之女)。她说,上个月她所在法院通过紧急贷款才勉强度过危机。但是当前加州的财政预算使她对该财年的前景并不乐观,法院被削减的三亿五千万美元预算,似乎只是削减行动的开始。在她看来,加州的58个基层法院,大约只有15-28个可以度过接下来的危机。

How does a court go over the cliff? In unphotogenic slow motion, which makes the dire consequences harder to see. Since the budget cuts started in 2009, says Ms Feinstein, the court has been muddling through. Service has got slower, waiting times longer. An uncontested divorce now takes about half a year, she says. Without the loan, she would have had to lay off so many people that such a divorce would have taken three times as long. With the loan, it will take merely twice as long. That means lives (not just those of the spouses, but also those of children in custodial limbo) are put on hold.

法院是如何陷入危机的? 这是一个极难发现的温水煮青蛙的过程。“从2009年的预算削减开始,法院的工作就开始步履维艰”范斯坦表示。法院的工作效率开始降低,当事人等待的时间也相应变长。她说,一个毫无争议的离婚诉讼现在需要大约半年时间才能审结。如果没有贷款的支持,她将不得不解雇更多的工作人员,这将导致类似离婚诉讼的审理时间达到这一时间的三倍。而在拥有贷款的情况下,则需要大约两倍的时间。这意味着他们的生活(不仅仅是这些离婚的夫妇,还有监护权尚未确定的孩子)被延误。

A typical lawsuit now goes to trial within a couple of years, says Ms Feinstein, but that could soon stretch to five years. The backlog of traffic infractions is already so daunting that it compromises enforcement (and the deterrence of bad driving). And so on. The Californian constitution guarantees criminal defendants a right to speedy trial, but it does not technically require courts to administer civil law at all, Ms Feinstein says. So, in theory, civil adjudication could stop altogether, as it already has on one judicial circuit in Georgia. That, she says would bring about the “unravelling of society”.

现在,一个标准民事诉讼的审理需要近两年,范斯坦说,但这一时间很容易被延长至五年。交通违规案件的积压也已经令人怯步,以致于妨碍到执行(以及对违规驾驶行为的威慑)。类似的情况还很多。刑事案件的被告可以依据加州宪法赋予的权利要求快速审理,但对民事案件却没有这些技术上的限制。所以,理论上,民事判决可能会被完全停止,就像之前佐治亚州的一个司法巡回区那样。她认为这样会带来“社会秩序的崩溃”。

Courts are in similar straits all over the country. A report by the American Bar Association found that in the last three years, most states have cut court funding by around 10-15%. In the past two years, 26 have stopped filling judicial vacancies, 34 have stopped replacing clerks, 31 have frozen or cut the salaries of judges or staff, 16 have furloughed clerical staff, and nine have furloughed judges. Courts in 14 states have reduced their opening hours, and are closed on some work days. Even the buildings are not immune; around the country 3,200 courthouses are “physically eroded” and “functionally deficient”, says the National Centre for State Courts.

目前全美的法院都面临着同样的困境。美国律师协会在过去三年中建立的一份报告显示,大多数州的法院的经费被削减了10-15%左右。过去的两年中,有26个州不再弥补法庭职位空缺,34个州的书记员停止了更换,31个州的法官及司法雇员的工资被削减或停止加薪。16个州的文职人员被放了长假,并且有9个州的法官休假。已经有14个州的法院缩短了他们的工作时间,甚而在一些工作日停止工作。即使那些法院的建筑也没能幸免;美国州法院中心宣称,全国各地有3200座法院建筑有“物理损坏”及“功能缺陷”。

This affects courts’ functioning in many ways. One municipal court in Ohio stopped accepting new cases because it could not afford to buy paper. New York judges’ pay has been frozen for a dozen years, even as their caseload has increased by 30%. The state’s 1,300 judges have sued the legislative and executive branches. Trial court judges make $136,700, less than the $160,000 (before bonuses) a stammering associate in a top-shelf New York City law firm expects in his first year on the job. Some clerks who have received automatic annual pay rises make more  than the judges they serve. The rate of attrition among New York judges has spiked.

这些事实从多方面影响了法院功能的实现。俄亥俄州的一个市法院因无法购买办公用纸不得不停止了案件的受理。而纽约州的法官在案件处理量增加了30%的情况下,依然12年没有加薪。该州的1300名法官已经向州立法和行政部门提出了加薪请求。在纽约,一个高级律师事务所的初级合伙人,第一年工作的工资预期是$160,000(不含奖金),而一个初审法院法官的年薪只有$136,700。甚至一些文职人员每年固定的年薪增长比他们服务的法官都高。因此纽约法官队伍的减员正在加剧。

This means that the courts are limiting access just when Americans need more adjudication. The recession left a vast legacy of foreclosures, personal and business bankruptcies, debt-collection and credit-card disputes. In Florida in 2009, according to the Washington Economics Group, the backlog in civil courts is costing the state some $9.8 billion in GDP a year, a staggering achievement for a court system that costs just $1.2 billion in its entirety. To make up the funding shortfall, courts are imposing higher filing fees on litigants. This threatens the idea of the equal right to justice, says Rebecca Love Kourlis of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System.

这意味着当美国人需要更多裁决时,法院的受案工作受到了限制。经济衰退留下的大量实现抵押的资产,个人及企业破产,债务履行及信用卡纠纷。依照华盛顿经济委员会的统计,2009年在佛罗里达民事法庭积压的案件一年花费了他们大约98亿美元的GDP,对此整体花费只有12亿美元的法院系统将是一个惊人的成就。为弥补资金差额,法院提高了当事人的诉讼申请费用。美国司法促进学会的Rebecca Love Kourlis认为,这将会威胁到司法的平等权利观念。

Even criminal cases are not immune. Some crimes, like domestic violence, have increased with the rotten economy. In Georgia, where court funds have fallen by 25% in the last two years, criminal cases now routinely take more than a year to come to trial. This means that jails are full of the innocent alongside the guilty. Their incarceration adds costs far greater than the alleged savings in the court system. Above all, it causes gross injustice.

刑事案件也没能在这些问题上幸免。一些例如家庭暴力犯罪的罪犯,也在随着经济衰退而增加。佐治亚州的法院经费在过去两年中减少了25%,因而目前刑事案件的日常审理通常会花费一年多的时间。这意味着监狱里塞满了无辜者和罪犯。监禁他们的花费要比声称从法院系统中节约的花费要大得多。尤其是,它给司法带来了荒唐。

At the federal level, things are better—but only a bit. Politics, more than funding, has kept judgeships empty. Filibustering of judicial nominations increased under George Bush, and even more sharply under Barack Obama, causing federal cases to pile up. But here too, pay is an issue. Even as the caseload has grown, federal judges’ salaries have risen by only 39% since 1991 while the cost of living has gone up 50%. Many good judges have simply returned to private practice.

在联邦一级,情况相对较好,但也不多。政治活动比资金更容易架空法官的地位。在乔治•布什政府时期就在增长的司法提名阻力,在奥巴马时期变得更加严峻的起来,这直接导致了联邦法案的堆积。同样,薪酬也存在问题。 即使案件不断积压,从1991年开始,在生活花费增长了51%的情况下,联邦法官的薪水也只增长了39%。许多优秀的法官不得不重新选择私人执业。

To many judges, as the American Bar Association puts it, “the underfunding of our judicial system threatens the fundamental nature of our tripartite system of government.” In San Francisco, Ms Feinstein thinks that the judicial branch must start explaining itself more forcefully to legislators. And if that doesn’t work, she thinks it may be time to ask voters directly for money. As one revered judge, Learned Hand, said in 1951, “If we are to keep our democracy, there must be one commandment: thou shalt not ration justice.”

正如美国律师协会说的,对许多法官来说,“我们资金匮乏的司法系统正威胁着政府权力分立的根基”。在旧金山,范斯坦女士认为,司法分支应当开始在立法部门更加强有力地表达自己的意愿。而如果这样做不起作用的话,她认为是时候去向选民直接获取资金支持了。就像一个令人尊敬的法官——勒恩德•汉德,在1951年所说,“如果我们要保持我们的民主,就必须遵守一条戒律:你不能约束正义。”
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发表于 2011-10-8 20:41 | 显示全部楼层
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