Brazil Chief Justice lecture

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Chief Justice Joaquim Barbarosa

Chief Justice Joaquim Barbarosa

Brazil Chief Justice lecture

His Excellency Joaquim Barbosa, Chief Justice of Brazil's Supreme Court, spoke at King’s last night about some of the biggest recent changes to Brazil’s legal system over the last ten years and analysed some of the court’s most high profile and controversial cases. He also spoke about the continued challenges the country faces with racial discrimination, lack of education, and renewed efforts to stamp out corruption in politics.

The lecture, hosted by King’s Brazil Institute, was attended by His Excellency Roberto Jaguaribe, Ambassador of Brazil to the United Kingdom; Professor Sir Rick Trainor, Principal & President of King’s College London; Professor David Caron, Dean of The Dickson Poon School of Law, and Professor Anthony Pereira, Director of King’s Brazil Institute.


(L-R: Professor Sir Rick Trainor, Chief Justice Barbosa, Roberto Jaguaribe and Professor Anthony Pereira)

Brazil’s Supreme Court (‘Superior Tribunal Federal’, or‘STF’) has become an important political actor in recent decades, shaping many of the country’s most important issues. Decisions are made by the 11 members of the court, whose hearings are nationally televised on ‘Justice TV’.

Joaquim Barbosa – the first black president of the STF – has shot to fame in recent years after presiding over Brazil’s largest political corruption trial involving a cash-for-votes scheme.

He was born in Paracatu, Minas Gerais, where his father worked as a bricklayer. He worked as a cleaner and a typesetter at the Senateto pay his way through law school at the University of Brasília. He became the first black person to serve on the Supreme Court in 2003, even though more than half of Brazil’s population identify themselves as having African descent. In 2012, he then became President of the Supreme Court. Chief Justice Barbosa is also the President of the National Council of Justice, a 15-member body that supervises the judiciary in Brazil, and seeks to enhance the courts’administrative and procedural transparency.

In 2013, he was listed as one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world and made the cover of Veja magazine (a leading news weekly)as ‘the poor boy who changed Brazil.’

Mr Barbosa thanked his hosts and remarked: ‘It is a great pleasure to be here at such a distinguished institution as King’s – and especially somewhere that promotes Brazilian studies in the UK.’

He then outlined some of the most important changes to thelegal system in Brazil over the last ten years. Three major constitutional changes that have impacted the court include:

  • Criminal cases against members of parliament – several members of congress in Brazil have been on trial recently in criminal cases. This used to be largely impossible, because the STF used to have to ask Congress for permission to prosecute its members, and this permission was almost never granted. But that requirement was abolished in 2001 by Constitutional Amendment 35. 

  • The creation of a new requirement for the admissibility of extraordinary appeals to be decided by the Supreme Court. Before 2004, appeals to the STF were allowed in almost all cases, and very common. Since 2004, lawyers have had to show that their cases go beyond the immediate interests of the parties involved, and have a broader legal, economic, social or political relevance. This change has had a‘huge impact’ on the court, he said, eliminating ‘over 40 percent of cases’ that used to be appealed. In this way the STF has obtained much greater control over its case load.

  • The binding effect of the court’s abstract review decisions– so far the court has issued 32 binding announcements. In accordance with Constitutional Amendment #45, passed in 2014, lower courts and municipal,state, and federal administrative bodies are required to adhere to these decisions, in the same way that Supreme Court rulings in common law countries create binding precedents. In this way Brazil is moving close to common law jurisprudence.

Chief Justice Barbosa then went on to discuss the Clean Record Act (‘Ficha Limpa’), passed in 2010, in order to clean up politics from corruption and organized crime. The law makes a candidate who has been impeached, resigned to avoid impeachment, or is convicted by a decision of a collective body (with more than one judge) in at least two levels of the judicial system, ineligible to run for office for eight years, even if there is the possibility of further appeals.

In February 2012, the STF found the law constitutional and valid for the next elections. ‘We will start to see the impact of this law,’ he said. ‘It will be the first time it is applied to national elections, the decision has had a huge impact on Brazil, because of corruption – especially at the state level, lots of candidates have been convicted.’

Mr Barbosa then answered questions on Justice TV. ‘Some people think it’s boring because of the technical language used, but it has been instrumental in educating people of their rights,’ he said. ‘It provides full transparency of the arguments, access to the decision making process, and it’s also a great tool for civic education.’

The Chief Justice also spoke about racial discrimination in Brazil. People of black origin make up more than 50 percent of the populationin Brazil, ‘but Brazilians do not like to discuss it,’ he said. He lamented the fact that TV in Brazil was dominated by white personalities. ‘We need to include blacks in mainstream society. The main problem in Brazil is education – the more black people you have in the mainstream economy the better the country gets.’

He dismissed questions about running as a candidate for President of Brazil saying he had never wanted to go into politics: ‘A lot of people come and say: “You should be our candidate”, but I never wanted to join political parties, even in college, I never had political militancy... So, no,’he said.

‘I do not care if people don’t like my work, I don’t care about whether it’s liberal or conservative. I do what I think is right.’

Professor Anthony Pereira, Director of King’s Brazil Institute, said: ‘We were very pleased to host this lecture by the Chief Justice. In very direct and clear language, Chief Justice Barbosa explained some of the important changes that have affected the work of the STF in recent years.

‘We were very honoured by his visit and are grateful for his generosity and openness, not only in his lecture but when he came to the Brazil Institute earlier in the day and took questions from our students and staff.’

Notes to editors

Joaquim Barbosa has been a judge in the STF since 2003, andits Chief Justice since 2012.

Before arriving at the Supreme Court, Minister Barbosa was a prosecutor in the Federal Public Ministry and an adjunct professor in the Law School at the Rio de Janeiro State University (UERJ). Minister Barbosa was avisiting scholar at the Centre for Human Rights at Columbia Law School, NewYork City in 1999-2000, and at the UCLA School of Law in 2002-3.

One of his areas of specialization is comparative constitutional law. He is intimately familiar with the constitutionaltraditions of Brazil, France, Germany, the UK and the USA. He has also published, among other works, The Supreme Court in the Brazilian Political System (a book in French published in 1998) and Affirmative Action and Constitutional Principles (a book published in Portuguese in 2001).

For further information please contact Katya Nasim,International Press Officer at King's College London, on + 44(0)207 848 3840 oremail

About King’s Brazil Institute(

King's Brazil Institute, one of King’s Global Institutes, provides a focal point for Brazil-related activities across a range of academic disciplines. Promoting an understanding of Brazil and developing the profile of Brazilian studies at the university level in the UK, the Institute coordinate sand develops Brazil-related research capabilities and Brazil-focused programmes of study at King's, while also building links with Brazilian organisations in education, the cultural and creative sectors, business and government. Throughthese activities, and as part of the College's broader international strategy,the Institute aims to contribute to a growing interdisciplinary interest inBrazil among both students and academics at King's.

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