What is today the Republic of Colombia became independent from Spain in 1819, as part of Gran Colombia, a country which comprised modern Colombia, Venezuela, Panama and Ecuador. This unstable union was dissolved in 1830, giving way to what we now know of as Colombia, but under the transitional name of New Grenada (the name Colombia would not be enduringly adopted until 1863).
New Grenada inherited from Spain a medieval judicial system that could best be described as authoritarian and inquisitional, and often unjust. Too much power was invested in magistrates (who were often unduly influenced by local Encomenderos, or the large local landowners). Essentially, if the local powers decided to charge someone with a crime, the accused had very few rights or abilities to defend themselves, while bearing the burden of proof.
As Colombia had the first constitutional government in Latin America, many regarded the archaic nature of the judicial system as a threat to democracy and progress. However, by the early 1840s, there developed strong differences regarding how far Colombia should liberalize its judicial and political systems. The emerging liberal factions wanted sweeping reforms, uprooting many Spanish legal traditions, and bringing in a jury-based trial system akin to that in the United States and Britain. Conservative factions, while believing in the need for reform, advocated more limited changes, by only modestly limiting the powers of the magistrates, while providing more latitude to the accused to mount an effective defense against the state’s charges.
The debate over the course of the future of the Colombian legal system was highly consequential, as it fueled the fictionalization of the country’s body politic, leading to the foundation of the Liberal Party (in 1848) and the Conservative Party, the following year. The increasingly acrimonious contest for power between the Liberals and Conservatives would dominate the country for the rest of the century, leading the Colombian Civil War (1860-2) and the horrific Thousand Days’ War (1899 – 1902).
The debate around the future of the judicial system first came to a head in the mid-1840s. The liberal cause for reform was led by José Ignacio de Márquez Barreto (1793 – 1880), the former President of New Grenada (in office, 1837-41), and perhaps the country’s foremost legal scholar.
The present important work, while technically advanced by the New Grenadian Ministry of Justice, was largely written by Márquez, and it articulates his wide-ranging proposals to reform the jury system, with the intention of creating a ‘professional’ jury pool that would severely limit the persecutorial powers of the magistrates.
The work meticulously goes through all different types of courts, crimes, and possible occasions for the employment of juries and, in essence, suggests that juries should be extended to the trails for virtually all misdemeanors and felonies (including press violations, commercial offenses, vagrancy, cohabitation, robbery, and petty theft), and not just for murder or other high crimes. Moreover, these juries were to be drawn from a pool of respected citizens, including merchants, unions, or retirees from public office, as opposed to being ‘cronies’ selected by local magistrates.
While Márquez succeeded in having the Ministry of Justice take up the proposal and to have the Secretary of the Government bring it before Congress, there existed a potent competing conservative vision.
Lino de Pombo O’Donnell (1797 – 1862), a journalist, legal scholar and the incumbent Secretaría de Hacienda (Economy Minister) of New Grenada, advanced his own proposal for legal reform, Recopilación de leyes de la Nueva Granada. Formada i publicada en cumplimiento de la lei de 4 de mayo de 1843 i por comisión del poder ejecutivo.contiene toda la lejislacion nacional vijente hasta el año de 1844 inclusiva (Bogotá Zoilo Zalazar, por Valentín Espinal, 1845), more popularly known as the ‘Recopilación Granadina’. This conservative document recommended that the judiciary be reformed and that extra protections be given to defendants; however, it contained few provisions for increasing the prevalence and power of juries.
A fierce debate developed between the liberal and conservative visions, with the later advocated by Mariano Ospina Rodríguez, the Governor of Antioquia and the future founder of the Conservative Party and President of the Republic, and Cerbeleón Pinzón, the future Foreign Minister. Ospina and Pinzón triumphed, leading to the passage of the Codigo de procedimiento criminal de la Nueva Granada de 1848, which advocated only modest legal reforms, more of less in line with the ‘Recopilación Granadina’.
While Márquez and the true liberals lost this round, and the reforms proposed by the present ‘Proyecto’ were rejected, it was not forgotten and remained highly influential. In due course, elements of the reform of the jury system, as advocated by Márquez, were gradually adopted throughout Colombia.
For instance, the federal laws, Estableciendo el juicio por jurados para los delitos de homicidio, robo i hurto de mayor cuantía (1851) and Sobre jurados (1852), were major steps forward. While the 1853 Colombian Constitution placed many aspects of the justice system under the control of the individual states, liberal justice reforms were gradually enfranchised in state laws across the country, such as with Antioquia’s organic law, Sobre jurados (1856) and Santander’s Ley orgánica del poder judicial sancionada (1857). Thus, the present work had an enduring influence, playing a key role in modernizing Colombia a legal system.
A Note on Rarity
The present work is extremely rare, like most Bogotá imprints of the era it would have been issued in only a very small print run, while its fragile nature would have ensured a low survival rate.
We can trace only 2 institutional examples, held by the University of Texas – Austin (Benson Latin American Collection) and the Biblioteca Eduardo Santos (Bogotá). Moreover, we are not aware of any other examples as having appeared on the market.
References: University of Texas – Austin, Benson Latin American Collection: LAC-Z Rare Books JL 2873 A288; OCLC: 23161406; Biblioteca Eduardo Santos (Bogotá): M567 Pza 6; Alejandro LONDOÑO Tamayo, ‘El juicio por jurado en Colombia (1821-1863). Participación ciudadana y justicia penal’, Ph.D. Dissertation, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Facultad de Geografía e Historia, Departamento de Historia de América (Madrid, 2014), pp. 113 and 340; José Anselmo PINEDA Gómez, Biblioteca de ex-coronel Pineda; o, Colección de publicaciones hechas en el vireinato de Santa Fé, en las repúblicas de Colombia y Nueva Granada, desde 1774 a 1850…, vol. 1 (Bogotá: Imprenta de El Tradicionista, 1872), p. 103.