Ecuadorian Criminal Justice Reform Efforts Marked by Renewed Support

December 2008

Criminal justice reform efforts in Ecuador have received unprecedented levels of support from in-country stakeholders in recent months. For many years, the issue of criminal justice reform received little or no assistance from the public sector, resulting in a deficient justice system. But now,various criminal justice sector organizations are actively participating in—and even leading—the reform process. These emergent leaders are a testament to the nation’s dedication to reform and are indicative of reform efforts’ forward momentum.  

The National Federation of Judicial Associations (Federación Nacional deAsociaciones de Judiciales or “FENAJE”), Ecuador’s national judges union,has emerged to take a leadership role in the reform process. FENAJE recognizes that justice system change will only be successful if it reaches out to groupsfrom across the justice sector—both to offer their expertise and to hear theadvice of others. To this end, FENAJE has actively sought to strengthen the relationship between their organization and the National Assembly’s Civil and Criminal Committee, the legislators charged with drafting reform legislation.The two entities now enjoy a healthy and productive relationship.

Throughout this relationship-building process, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative’s(ABA ROLI’s) program in Ecuador has provided training and technical assistance to judges throughout the country, especially on issues related to the accusatorial systems and on tactics for implementing them. ABA ROLI has been well-received by Civil and Criminal Committee legislators, as well. The committee has declared both the need for assistance in the transition processand a confidence in ABA ROLI’s ability to provide that assistance.

In addition to hosting training events and sponsoring study tours, ABAROLI’s program in Ecuador has published a preliminary work document to help guide justice sector actors and legislators through the transition. The working paper, which is entitled The Urgent Reform of the Criminal ProcedureLegislation, outlines a roadmap for comprehensive reform of the criminal procedure code and criminal code, including expert commentary. The document hasbeen distributed to each of Ecuador’s judicial associations and to members ofthe Civil and Criminal Committee, with the aim of facilitating discussion amongand between the groups, and of soliciting comments and counter-proposals.

In mid-December, FENAJE hosted two U.S. experts, Federal Judge FrankMontalvo and Federal Prosecutor Carlos Pérez, to review and comment on the workingpaper. During their visit, the experts met with a group of legislators from theNational Assembly, FENAJE representatives and ABA ROLI representatives. The meeting served as an opportunity for all parties to present their ideas in acollaborative environment. Discussions during the meeting produced significantresults, with both legislators and judges leaving with a clear vision forreform. The group also identified short-term priorities for reform efforts, keeping in mind the long-term goals and outcomes. Short-term priorities include:

  • harmonizing constitutional rulings with the criminal procedure code
  • reclassifying criminal offenses and broadening the protection of personal rights
  •  promoting the principle of minimal criminal intervention and the standard of probable cause
  • and addressing charging issues, such as establishing the practice of investigating prior to arrest as opposed to arresting for the purpose of investigation.

The final version of the document, which will be entitled Recommendations and Directives for Criminal Procedure Reform,  will presentcommentaries on reform from throughout the justice sector and will contribute substantively to the reform process.

Stories about ABA ROLI’s work to combat anti-corruption and to assist in the transition to an accusatorial system can be found at http://www.abanet.org/rol/latin_america/ecuador.html.

For more information about our work in Ecuador, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at rol@staff.abanet.org.

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