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Students taking notes during a Professional Magistrates Training Program workshop in Liberia.
Even after seven years of peace, Liberia’s civil wars cast a particularly stubborn shadow over the country’s magisterial courts. These courts—which are those courts most often accessed by ordinary citizens—remain blighted by low capacity, corruption and inefficiency. Less than a dozen of the approximately 350 magistrates who preside over them have ever set foot in a law school. Many magistrates are well past the statutory retirement age, and most operate with deficits not only in legal training, but in basic literacy.
For a variety of reasons, few law school graduates consider joining the magisterial ranks each year, despite the scarceness of other career opportunities. To encourage further consideration by law school graduates, and to train them to serve, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) is currently partnering with the Liberian judiciary to pilot the Professional Magistrates Training Program (PMTP). Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and the German Technical Corporation, PMTP is a year-long full-time practical training program offered by James A. A. Pierre Judicial Institute.
The program is designed to harness the potential of Liberia’s college graduates to significantly impact the country’s judicial system. Ophelia Mathies, executive director of the judicial institute, has called the program “a pragmatic step towards solving one of the judicial system’s most pressing problems.”
The Judicial Institute’s Board of Governors worked with government leaders, magisterial court officials and the United Nations Mission in Liberia to develop a syllabus that would encompass court observations, mentorship and group assignments, as well as lectures. With this in place, three law-trained magistrates constructed lesson plans covering an array of substantive subjects. The magistrates took part in an earlier ABA ROLI program that offered training on instructional design and adult learning, and the lesson plans drew upon the Benchbook on Criminal Procedure, for which ABA ROLI provided technical assistance.
Thanks to the commitment of the Liberian judiciary and programs like PMTP, this generation of magistrate-trainees will offer new hope for the country’s long-maligned magisterial courts, revolutionizing their ability to administer fair and timely justice to the people of Liberia.
To learn more about our work in Liberia, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at firstname.lastname@example.org.