¿Does judicial delay violate the rights of Colombians?

Posted on: November 21st 2023

¿Does judicial delay violate the rights of Colombians?

Sergio Andrés Diaz Cortés
¿Cuánto tiempo?

Judicial delay is a problem that affects a lot the judicial system in Colombia without exception. Today, there is such a degree of slowness in the judicial cases, which ends up generating negative consequences both for the individuals involved and for society in general, due to the legal insecurity it creates in judicial decision making. Through rulings such as SU-394 of 2016, T-099 of 2021 and SU179 of 2021, the Constitutional Court 1 has defined that judicial delay should be considered as a multicausal and structural phenomenon, which prevents the efficient and effective enjoyment of the right to access to the administration of justice, reasonable time and due process which occurs as a result of structural procedural accumulations that exceed the human capacity of the judicial officials in charge of resolving all disputes.

While it is true that factors such as the overload of cases in the judicial offices may be one of the main aspects contributing to judicial delay, it is no less true that the lack of resources and personnel in the judicial system may hinder the efficient management of cases. The lack of investment in infrastructure, technology and training of judicial personnel, according to the Court, has limited the efficiency of the judicial system, thus contributing to judicial delay, which brings consequences such as impunity and distrust in the Colombian judicial system.

The perception that justice in Colombia is slow and inefficient ends up affecting society's confidence in justice, which is crucial for the proper functioning of a social state based on the rule of law.

Despite the above, according to case law, the existence of judicial delay is acceptable, as long as it is fully justified, so it must be (i) established that the failure to comply with the procedural term to decide the matter submitted to the competent judge must be the result of the complexity of the matter and that within the process the reasonable diligence of the judicial operators is demonstrated; (ii) that there are indeed structural problems in the administration of justice that generate an excessive workload or judicial congestion, and if other unforeseeable or unavoidable circumstances that prevent the resolution of the dispute within the term provided by law are accredited.

Likewise, although there is a way to justify the delay, it may also be considered unjustified when it is the result of non-compliance with the terms set forth in the law to advance any necessary judicial action; there is no reasonable reason to justify such delay, such as judicial congestion or workload, and the delay is attributable to the omission of a judicial authority in the performance of its duties.

With all this, we must ask ourselves, does the existence of judicial delay generate a violation of fundamental rights of Colombians? The Constitutional Court has established that yes, as long as it is an unjustified judicial delay, since otherwise there would be no violation of the rights to due process, to obtain a decision without unjustified delays, to reasonable time and to access to the administration of justice, since the delay in the resolution of the process is not attributable to the negligence of the judicial operator, but to other causes, for example, structural problems of judicial congestion.

For these reasons, the shift systems are created, which generates in the light of the concept of the judiciary "right to equality and rationalization of the service of administration of justice", providing that all citizens submit to the system to receive a ruling or at least an advance in their judicial proceedings.

Similarly, we must ask ourselves, how can we invoke the protection of these rights? It has been indicated that, exceptionally, we may be faced with the possible materialization of a damage whose harm cannot be remedied by the judicial operators, and even fundamental rights are compromised, which would enable the possibility of resorting to the guardianship action, in which only the temporary protection of the fundamental rights that are considered violated must be sought, while the judge resolves the merits of the case. In any case, this type of measures requires verifying the verification of an irremediable damage and the ownership of the fundamental right, on the one hand, and prevents the guardianship judge from interfering in matters proper to the judge of knowledge, making a thorough, detailed and in-depth analysis of the case.

The Colombian State must consider ways to simplify processes, supported by technological implementation that helps to speed up judicial procedures, considering that the main cause of judicial delay that is always alleged is the excessive workload. Additionally, it should encourage continuous training and specialization of judges and judicial personnel, which can contribute to faster and more accurate decision making.

In summary, addressing judicial delay in Colombia requires a comprehensive approach that includes modernizing the system, training judicial personnel and implementing efficient management practices. This is a complex challenge, involving all judicial ends, but it is essential to ensure an effective and reliable justice system.


[1]Rulings SU-394 of 2016 MP Gloria Stella Ortiz Delgado, T-099 of 2021MP José Fernando Reyes Cuartas; and SU179 of 2021 MP Alejandro Linares Cantillo.