Judicial Reform Background

When the ABA Rule of Law Initiative first began providing technical legal assistance in Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia more than a decade ago, many of the judiciaries in the region were in desperate need of reform. At that time, judiciaries throughout the region were overly dependent on and often unduly influenced by government authorities and political parties. Judiciaries were often used as instruments to advance the interests of the ruling elite rather than as mechanisms to protect individual rights and freedoms and promote access to justice. As the ABA Rule of Law Initiative expanded its rule of law programming to other regions, it became apparent that many of the same obstacles are present in judiciaries throughout the world.

Significant progress in overcoming these problems has been achieved, but many challenges remain. Inadequate judicial education and advanced training, as well as insufficient emphasis on judicial ethics frustrate the professionalism and effectiveness of judiciaries and judges throughout the developing world. Overwhelming caseloads, coupled with inadequate resource allocation and lack of modern case management mechanisms, often result in procedural delays that undermine the administration of justice. Courts are plagued with problems of corruption, further undermining the fragile public trust in fairness and efficiency of the judicial system. Moreover, insufficient professional guarantees and judicial powers leave many judges demoralized and marginalized in their own courtrooms,
either unable or unwilling to promote the rule of law.

The ABA Rule of Law Initiative supports judicial reform and development in transitioning states because an independent, accountable and effective judiciary is a central pillar of the rule of law. Without an independent judiciary, the right to a fair trial and other fundamental rights remain illusory. Democratic governance, economic development, and social equality are also inextricably intertwined with an independent judiciary.