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Swiss government rejects push to appoint judges by lottery

ZURICH (Reuters) - The Swiss government on Thursday rejected a proposal to appoint supreme court judges by lottery, a system it said would make the court appear less legitimate.

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Supreme court judges are members of political parties and rely on them to be elected and re-elected, potentially exposing them to political pressure. A referendum campaign, led by entrepreneur Adrian Gasser, seeks to reform the system.

But, ahead of a binding referendum on the issue required under the Swiss system of direct democracy, some legal experts and now the government have criticised the campaign’s idea of drawing lots from a pool of suitable candidates.

“(The appointment by lottery) is based on chance rather than a democratic election and would thus be an outlier in the Swiss legal system,” the government said in a statement, asking parliament to reject the initiative.

The government said the current system, in which both houses of parliament elect judges for the court based in Lausanne, had proved its worth and also broadly mirrored the parties’ relative strength in parliament.

Gasser told Reuters the government’s arguments were weak.

“A lottery is more democratic than a political party procedure that excludes a big part of the population. Candidates without party membership cannot be appointed and women are also under-represented,” Gasser said.

He said campaigners would keep informing Swiss voters, who were largely unaware of judges’ political ties.

Legal experts, including the Swiss judges’ association, have long called for an overhaul of the way supreme court judges are appointed.

The issue came to the fore last year when the supreme court ruled in favour of releasing client data from Swiss bank UBS to the French tax authorities, something the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) had strongly opposed.

The SVP was furious because the judge who tipped the scales in the 3-2 vote was one of its paid-up members. It threatened not to back his re-election.

Reporting by Silke Koltrowitz; Editing by Barbara Lewis and David Holmes

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