Mexico prepares to unveil less ambitious justice reform: sources

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico has scaled back a planned judicial reform that alarmed rights defenders and caused a backlash within President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s cabinet, three officials told Reuters, adding that the revised version could be unveiled within days.

It was not immediately clear if the new proposal will still include new rules on wire taps that would allow private communications to be used as evidence and limits to legal challenges that can lead to extradition delays, issues seen as vital to Mexico’s security partner, the United States.

Challenges have been used to draw out the legal process for several drug traffickers, including that of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzman, who is currently serving a life sentence in the United States.

The sources said the new version was considerably less ambitious than a draft reported by Reuters in January. The drafts, which included sweeping changes to Mexico’s criminal law, led to an outcry among rights groups and a rethink.

The new version of the reform “is not very deep” and does not go as far as the original plan, said one of the sources, a senior government official who requested anonymity in order to speak more frankly.

The proposed reform, led by Mexico’s Attorney General Alejandro Gertz, is the cornerstone of Mexico’s attempts to reform its unwieldy judicial system after a previous overhaul in 2016 failed to end low conviction rates and record murder numbers.

The original proposals included an expanded use of preventive detention and in some case could have validated illegally obtained evidence. Some ministers and members of the ruling party felt such ideas infringed human rights, half a dozen sources consulted by Reuters said.

“I don’t agree what the attorney general is doing,” said one of the sources. “He brings his own reforms.”

The attorney general’s office did not respond to a request for comment. In a previous statement, the office distanced itself from the drafts and said Gertz had not signed off on them.

The bill were to be submitted to Congress in mid-January.

Lopez Obrador took office in 2018 with the promise of fighting corruption and violence fueled by organized crime. But last year, murders hit a new record with 34,582 cases, raising criticism of his security strategy.

The administration proposed the reform in response to the failure of a criminal justice system in place since 2016 that many security forces and politicians complain has made it harder for them to prosecute suspects, driving crime higher, they say.

Less than 10% of homicides in Mexico are resolved and traditionally many confessions are achieved under torture or pressure from authorities.

Reporting by Diego Oré; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Sonya Hepinstall