Following decades of isolation, Myanmar's judiciary is reviewing existing systems, policies, and practices and has been seeking guidance on international best practices for justice sector reform. Tetra Tech’s USAID-funded Promoting the Rule of Law Project (PRLP) is working with the Office of the Supreme Court of the Union to establish a national Case Management Committee tasked with re-evaluating and modernizing the country’s Courts Manual which dates back to 1960. While much of the Manual’s guidance remains relevant, some of it has not been consistently followed and would benefit from re-examination and the introduction of modern case management practices. The new Courts Manual is being implemented in several PRLP-supported pilot courts and, following an evaluation of the experience in the pilot courts, is intended to be rolled out in courts across the country.
One part of the Manual is a new Case Management Plan, which is designed to address chronic delays in Myanmar’s courts that undermine court calendars as well as the cases themselves, whether due to poorly prepared attorneys or failure of witnesses or police to appear. Under the Plan, litigants in the pilot courts will see major changes, including the introduction of case management conferences, case scheduling orders signed by the judges and the parties (cited by judges and experts as the single, most effective delay-reduction tool), and pretrial conferences. The result will be a custom-made road map for each case provided to the parties at the outset of litigation, instilling clarity about the various steps and the expectations of each party.
Although implementation of these new procedures has encountered some resistance and challenges because they diverge from decades-old judicial practices, the new Courts Manual and Case Management Plan are notable steps in Myanmar’s justice sector reform process.
Judiciary leadership in Myanmar authorized judges at the local court levels to speak with the press for the first time
“When speaking to journalists, show your compassion as a human by acknowledging the concerns of the average viewer, and let them know that as you take your job seriously in providing a public service, you also feel the pain of those affected.”
The practical advice from Kentucky Appellate Court Judge William Knopf (Ret.) was eagerly noted down by an audience of 56 judges from around Myanmar in a Court-Media Relations Workshop in Naypyitaw in May 2014, organized by the USAID Promoting the Rule of Law Project.
As Myanmar embarks on historic political reforms, the nation’s judges are still finding their footing amid a transformation in legal relations among the judiciary, citizens, and the press.
In the words of one judicial official, with newfound freedom of the press, the judiciary is facing “scurrilous criticism” from the media. Judges at the May workshop conceded they have lacked the training and skills to respond effectively. Historically media is allowed in courtrooms, whereas individual judges have not been authorized to speak with journalists.
Judge Knopf – citing a US court ruling which states, “One of the strongest demands of a democratic system is that the public should know what goes on in their courts” – explained that judges in the US generally are free to speak to journalists subject to certain ethical constraints. He also outlined the critical role of public information units in the courts in communicating about the positive work of the judiciary and responding to journalist inquiries and the value of developing written guides for judges and journalists.
The impact of the workshop was quickly felt. Within weeks, judiciary leadership for the first time authorized judges at the local court levels to speak with the press. The Office of the Supreme Court of the Union adopted a decision to move ahead with a plan to establish Public Information Units at the national and region/state levels. And the judiciary invited the Promoting the Rule of Law Project to provide media skills training in the new judge training program in August.
The Promoting the Rule of Law Project will provide technical support to the creation of the new public information units, media skills training for judges, development of a Reporter’s Handbook, and training to journalists about professional reporting on the justice system.
A more open judiciary is vital to the long-term success of Myanmar’s reform process. Judges confident in their ability to interact with journalists, on the one hand, and more professional journalists, on the other, will promote openness, fair and balanced media coverage, and, ultimately, greater public trust and confidence in the judiciary.
The Prosecutor General of Peru approved the Organization and Functions Manual for the Corporate Criminal Prosecutor’s Office
On May 10, 2014, Peru’s Prosecutor General published the resolution wherein he approved the “Organization and Functions Manual” for the Corporate Criminal Prosecution Office. The Manual was developed and is to be implemented by the Public Ministry pursuant to the Plan for the Consolidation of the Reform which was approved by the Special Commission for Implementation of the Criminal Procedure Code.
The Manual was developed with the technical assistance of the USAID Pro-Integridad Project by a working group of 16 members, appointed by the Prosecutor General of the Nation by way of resolution of February 27, 2014. This group was composed of prosecutors and officials from nine districts of Peru. The Manual redesigns the organization of the criminal prosecution offices so as to facilitate the implementation of the Criminal Procedure Code. Key objectives of the reorganization, based on the corporate model, include team work, systemic coordination between the prosecution and administrative units and equitable distribution of the work load.,
The Criminal Procedure Code, the implementation of which started in 2006, replaces the Criminal Procedures Code of 1940. The new Code not only transforms the role of prosecutors but demands the adjustment of the organization and procedures of the criminal prosecution offices to respond to the challenge of realizing the accusatory model and the oral trial. Compared to Code of 1940 the new procedure will bring enhanced speed and transparency but reorganization is necessary to attain its full potential.
With the new Manual, the corporate model is consolidated and there are coordination mechanisms and criteria in place to optimize the distribution of the prosecutors’ workloads. The next step will be to train prosecutors and key personnel to implement the new corporate office structure and procedures. USAID Pro-Integridad will continue its support of the Public Ministry in these next important steps.
ProJustice organized training for chief clerks, judges, and heads of courts to evaluate their practices and raise their awareness of national legislation and international standards
Improving the administration of justice in Côte d’Ivoire is a primary objective of Tetra Tech DPK’s ProJustice Program. Strong and capable court personnel, judiciary police, and magistrates are key to an effective judiciary. To implement an ambitious training program, ProJustice helped form the Committee for Modernization and Improvement of Justice (comprised of senior judges and officials from the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights) to guide ProJustice’s training agenda for magistrates and court personnel. Magistrates, judicial police, and court staff are being trained in criminal investigation and prosecution techniques, management of investigating judge offices, both in Abidjan and in the 11 pilot court sites where ProJustice works.
Among the many beneficiaries of ProJustice’s early training efforts was Mr. Kone Mori, President of the Court of Dimbokro, who expressed particular interest in the training program’s emphasis on the concept of a public service orientation of the courts and the need to provide accurate information to defendants and victims. He stated that the training increased his understanding of various aspects of court management, including citizens’ rights during police custody, the use of detention warrants, and strategies for reducing criminal case backlogs.
After his training, Mr. Kone informed ProJustice of the steps he intended to take to implement the strategies introduced. He stated that he would work with the police to stress the importance of providing notice of detention to defendants, and he also promised to work regularly with his staff to better organize his court’s case management systems and to promote transparency in his court.
Mr. Kone Mori, President of the Court of Dimbokro, shows his certificate of participation in one of ProJustice’s training seminars on modernization and improvement of the Ivoirian justice system.
Young female lawyer represents Afghanistan in the Jessup International Moot Court Competition
Traditional Afghan society offers limited opportunities for women to pursue a university education and develop the skills and self-efficacy that can lead to a career in public service. However, Fereshta Abbasi is one of a growing number of exceptional Afghan women who are overcoming that trend. Fereshta’s parents fled to Iran before she was born and returned to Afghanistan in 2004, when Fereshta was 12 years old. Her parents, and especially her father, always encouraged her to excel in school and continue to support her dream to become a lawyer. With this goal in mind, Fereshta attended the Law Faculty at Herat University and graduated in 2013.
As a law student, she competed in the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition. As the only female team member, Fereshta traveled to Washington, DC, without the accompaniment of a family member, despite conservative social norms for women her age.
The Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition is the world's largest of its kind, and USAID sponsors the participation of students from Afghanistan. Fereshta felt so empowered by her exposure to law students from around the world in 2013 that she pursued an opportunity to return to the Jessup competition after graduation. In 2014, Fereshta was invited to return as the first Afghan national to participate as a judge in the international rounds of the competition.
Commenting on her experience, Fereshta said: “Being a judge in international rounds is a unique experience. It was one of my dreams to be an international judge and now I have accomplished this goal.” Fereshta is currently working in Kabul as an advisor to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and hopes to be a role model for other female law students in Afghanistan. She is on her way towards a bright future as a dedicated lawyer in service to her country.
Fereshta Abbasi proudly poses with the flag of Afghanistan at the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition in Washington, DC
Ministry of Justice and Human Rights launches implementation of the Institutional Integrity Model
The justice system in Peru has been working for several years in the fight against corruption. The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights (MINJUS), under the leadership of Dr. Daniel Figallo Rivadeneyra, has started the implementation of the MINJUS Anti-Corruption Plan, which includes the Institutional Integrity Model (IIM).
The Institutional Integrity Model (IIM) facilitates the design, development, and implementation of integrity systems that demonstrate a preventive philosophy by ensuring each institution and its staff addresses ethics as an institutional and individual obligation. Pro-Integridad developed the institutional integrity assessment of the MINJUS, including its methodology, with a high degree of participation from MINJUS members.
The result was the incorporation of specific activities and indicators related to the implementation of the IIM in their Anticorruption Plan (2013-2016) that was formally approved in November 2013. In a meeting held with USAID representatives, including the Mission Director, the Minister of Justice expressed significant interest in the assistance provided by Pro-Integridad for implementing the IIM in the Ministry. Throughout 2014, Pro-Integridad will assist the MINJUS in order to implement key activities of the IIM, the development of a new Ethics Code, and training activities related to Integrity within the MINJUS.
A seminar organized by ProJustice program in collaboration with the EU and UNOCI resulted in a revised draft law to reform and improve the management of legal aid in Côte d’Ivoire; the law will be submitted to the Parliament in April 2014 for its adoption
On March 6-8, 2014 ProJustice organized a seminar focusing on access to justice and legal aid for 35 participants from government ministries and non-governmental organizations. The seminar was a first step in paving the way for the adoption of a new law to reform and improve the management of legal aid in Côte d’Ivoire. The main objectives of the reform are to set up clearer criteria of eligibility for destitute victims to access the public defense fund to allow them to go to court. In October 2013, ProJustice facilitated a roundtable discussion among judicial professionals to review the mechanisms for payment of fees and emoluments to lawyers and other justice sector actors such as bailiffs.
Participants at the seminar deliberating on the draft law to reform and improve the management of legal aid in Côte d’Ivoire.
At least three factors hamper the functioning of the current legal aid system
ProJustice’s seminar raised awareness of the problems and resulted in a revised draft law on legal aid in Cote d’Ivoire. The law will be submitted to Parliament in April 2014 for its adoption.
In his opening remarks, the Director of Civil and Criminal Affairs of the MOJHR set an ambitious agenda, emphasizing “the aim of this seminar and of our work is to [move] justice closer to people, in particular to vulnerable people.”
Convened in Grand Bassam from March 6 – 8, 2014, the seminar was an excellent example of donor coordination, having been jointly organized and supported by USAID/ProJustice, the European Union (EU), and the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI). The seminar brought together 35 participants from different departments of the MOJHR, the Ministry of Social Affairs, Ministry of Finance, judicial treasury department, national bar association, and non-governmental organizations.
Once the new law is passed, ProJustice will continue to provide assistance to the MOJHR’s Office of Legal and Judicial Assistance to support the decentralization of the legal aid system. ProJustice plans to organize training sessions in the pilot courts to better inform magistrates and court personnel of the changes to come in provision of legal aid.
“We no longer want to be labelled as producing crime and violence. We have been inspired as a group to create articles focusing on the good in our communities by using social media,” stated Navare Harriott of St. Andrew Parish at the end of a two-day citizen journalism workshop hosted by Tt DPK’s USAID-funded Community Empowerment and Transformation Project (COMET II). Navare was one of 25 youths from target communities who participated in the workshop on June 30 and July 1.
The objectives of the workshop were to introduce Jamaican youth to a “culture of lawfulness” and build their ability to showcase lawfulness within their communities through social media. The participants, 18 young women and 7 young men, are members of police youth clubs, citizen associations, parent
teacher associations, faith-based organizations, and community development committees.
Damion Mitchell, online and radio editor at The Gleaner (Jamaica’s oldest and largest newspaper), provided tips on how to prepare stories that highlight communities and capture the attention of the audience. This workshop is one of several COMET II activities aimed at increasing citizen participation and youth engagement to improve safety and security in Jamaican communities.
Billboards in Afghanistan Raise Community Awareness about Human Rights
Rule of Law Stabilization Program in Afghanistan erected billboards in six provinces in Kabul with messages for the community on their right to a fair trial and the prevention of forced marriages. The RLS Program is building community knowledge on Afghan law and human rights norms through media.
Billboard in Bulkh province near old prison in Kabul "In the courts in Afghanistan, trials shall be held openly and every individual shall have the right to attend in accordance with the law… Afghan Constitution - Article 128, Independent Commission for Overseeing the Implementation of the Constitution"
Billboard in Kapisa province at the Kaldan Square"A matron should not be given in marriage except after consulting her; and a virgin should not be given in marriage except after her permission." (Sahih ul Bukhari, Hadith 5136)
PROJUSTICE Project Works to Reduce Pretrial Detention
Seventeen-year-old Chery Paulson had been living with his sister on the street and in shelters since their parents died. Arrested in April 2011 for theft and criminal association, he began a nightmarish 34-month odyssey through Haiti’s criminal justice system, which only ended with the help of Tt DPK’s PROJUSTICE project. Chery was held in police custody for 4 months before seeing a judge – a violation of the Haitian Constitution which requires judicial review within 48 hours of arrest. After his judicial appearance he was returned to jail to await completion of the investigation (as bail is not commonly practiced in Haiti).
Chery was still at the penitentiary in December 2011 when he was interviewed by PROJUSTICE’s pretrial detention team. Following PROJUSTICE’s petitions to the court, Chery was called to trial in July 2012, convicted, and sentenced to 1 year in prison. With credit for time served, the court ordered his release for August 30, 2012, 16 months after his arrest.
Chery’s case is not unique. Many prisoners in Haiti’s prisons languish for months or years before seeing a judge; others remain in prison even after they have completed their sentences. As of January 2014, there were 10,386 men, women, and minors in detention in Haiti, of whom 7,419 (72%) were pretrial detainees.
Since 2009, Tt DPK’s USAID-funded PROJUSTICE project has been working with Haitian governmental and non-governmental partners to address the problem of prisoners in excessive or illegal pretrial detention. Lost and disorganized files, absence of official follow-up, and a lack of clear communication channels among the different actors in the criminal justice system are some of the key causes. Chery’s case unfortunately exemplifies all of these, although the pretrial detention landscape in Haiti is clearly improving due to PROJUSTICE’s efforts
In two of PROJUSTICE’s target jurisdictions, Saint-Marc and Fort Liberté, the average lengths of pretrial detention were approximately 4 months as of July 2013, while in a third jurisdiction, Cap-Haïtien, the average length was 8.6 months. Although still beyond the roughly 4-month period allowed by Haitian law to formally indict or release a person accused of a crime, Cap-Haïtien’s 8.6-month average is down 2.4 months from its average of January 2013, reflecting the impacts of PROJUSTICE’s pretrial detention work. The project’s target jurisdictions are making significant gains in reducing the average duration of pretrial detentions, few jurisdictions, including Saint-Marc and Fort-Liberté, have all but eliminated the problem.
Sadly, Chery’s case did not end with his court-ordered release date of August 30, 2012. In May 2013, PROJUSTICE discovered that Chery was still in prison and immediately resumed advocating for his release at the court and prosecutor’s office. On December 30, 2013, the prosecutor issued a release order but this was not received by the prison authorities until delivered by PROJUSTICE legal assistants on January 10, 2014. Chery Paulson was finally released that same day, a full 34 months after his arrest.
A few days later, Chery stopped by Tt DPK’s PROJUSTICE office in Port-au-Prince to thank USAID and the project team for their support and assistance in obtaining his release. He had particular thanks for Josh Pazour, PROJUSTICE’s Senior Advisor for Pretrial Detention, and Rony Lenord of the PROJUSTICE pretrial detention team. Chery promised to learn from his mistakes and vowed to become a productive member of society.