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JUSTRAC Symposium on Transitioning to the Accusatorial Model: Addressing Challenges for Legal Education and Training in Latin America

Panama City, Panama

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One of the most significant legal reform trends has been the shift from inquisitorial to accusatorial justice systems.  In some cases, this shift has involved wholesale adaptations of the accusatorial system, while in others it has consisted of limited procedural reforms.  Such reforms may be catalyzed by systemic administrative and political pressures, such as case backlogs, corruption, and real or perceived unfairness in a justice system.  While these reforms are often initiated through sweeping and immediate changes in law, their ultimate implementation is dependent upon fundamental alterations in the roles, approaches, and attitudes of judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and all actors within the justice system.  This latter change has proven particularly challenging to implement with respect to both existing legal professionals, originally trained in the inquisitorial model, and students now being educated in a new system.

Latin America has been at the center of this trend.  Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama, and Peru have introduced accusatorial aspects into their justice systems with varying degrees of success.  One essential element of this reform is how to prepare the human actors for these new systems.  Unless the legal and judicial professionals are properly prepared to take advantage of the new accusatorial elements, many of these reforms will fail.  This symposium supported these ongoing efforts by bringing together officials and experts in legal education and training to discuss successful strategies and outstanding challenges in facilitating transitions from inquisitorial to accusatorial systems in the target countries.

Comprised of representatives from across Latin America, including from government, civil society, and educational/training institutions, this three-day, closed-door, invitation-only symposium examined the efforts made to prepare legal and judicial actors for the new accusatorial elements found in these justice systems.  The symposium employed both (i) plenary discussions aimed at addressing some of this transition’s most pressing challenges, and (ii) working group sessions divided into the three principal sectors: (a) university legal education for future professionals, (b) training institutions for new judges, prosecutors and lawyers, and (c) continuing legal education for existing judicial and legal actors.  Of particular interest was the challenges associated with employing modern adult education methods, changing mindsets, and developing relevant skills.  The working groups were divided to ensure that recommendations were targeted to the specific needs of different sectors, but each explored best practices in the region and sought to draw on lessons learned.  Participants drafted concrete recommendations, compiled in a white paper that was made available to participants and other interested actors to assist in efforts to improve legal education and training in Latin America and ultimately to enhance the success and sustainability of transitions to accusatorial justice systems.

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