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Governance and Justice System Strengthening

Judicial Reform

As part of its judicial reform programs, ABA ROLI promotes greater independence, accountability and transparency in judicial systems; assists in drafting and implementing codes of judicial ethics; promotes judicial education and training; and helps to enhance court administration and efficiency.

When we first began providing technical legal assistance in Central and Eastern Europe about 25 years ago, the judiciaries of many nations in the region were in desperate need of reform. As ABA ROLI expanded its rule of law programming to other regions, it became apparent that similar obstacles existed in judicial systems throughout the world. And while many judiciaries have made significant progress, challenges remain.

Insufficient judicial education and professional training, as well as a lack of emphasis on judicial ethics, hamper the effectiveness of judiciaries and of individual judges in many countries throughout the world. Overwhelming caseloads—coupled with inadequate resource allocation and a lack of modern case-management systems—can result in procedural delays that undermine the administration of justice.

Courts are often plagued with corruption, undermining often-fragile public trust in the fairness and efficiency of the judicial system. Moreover, insufficient professional guarantees and ill-defined judicial powers leave many judges and magistrates demoralized and marginalized in their own courtrooms and thus unable, or unwilling, to promote the rule of law.

ABA ROLI believes that an independent, accountable, well-functioning judiciary is a central pillar of the rule of law. With this in mind, we offer expert assistance in and provide resources for:

  • conducting assessments of judicial reform efforts,
  • facilitating dialogue on judicial reform and independence,
  • promoting education and training for judges and court personnel,
  • improving judicial ethics and accountability, and
  • strengthening court administration, efficiency and transparency.

Evaluating judicial reform

To identify and target the core challenges necessitating judicial reform, we have committed resources to building advanced assessment capacity. ABA ROLI undertakes assessments of judiciaries, using its Judicial Reform Index (JRI), a tool that assesses judicial reform and independence. The JRI was conceived and designed based upon comparative analyses of legal traditions, international standards and regional norms, so it can be implemented globally. Since 2001, ABA ROLI has undertaken 40 JRI assessments in 20 countries, informing national reform and donor priorities alike.

Criminal Justice Reform

ABA ROLI’s criminal justice programs provide technical assistance to governments, civil society organizations and justice sector professionals, including prosecutors, police, defense counsel, magistrates and judges.

Our programs improve criminal justice systems by helping justice sector professionals and institutions increase capacity and enhance skills. A well-functioning criminal justice system protects and promotes individual rights. Our contributions toward criminal procedure code reform have resulted in investigations and trials that are increasingly free from bias and that contain enhanced rights protections—for the accused and victims alike—at all stages of criminal investigations and proceedings. In some countries, especially those transitioning toward a more adversarial system, ABA ROLI provides trial advocacy training for criminal justice actors, helping them communicate and advocate more effectively. These trainings also emphasize compliance with international and regional standards and best practices.

Our role in establishing and supporting public defender and legal aid centers helps to create improved and sustainable access to justice in many countries. Programs that help delineate and strengthen the respective roles of judges, prosecutors and defense counsel promote fairness and a better balance of power between the state and the accused. Targeted, substantive trainings on a wide range of issues, including organized crime, money laundering, terrorism financing, domestic violence and gender-based violence, further professionalize and empower criminal justice actors and help keep communities safe.

Assessing criminal justice reform efforts

Our Prosecutorial Reform Index offers host-country justice institutions, international organizations, development agencies and technical assistance providers a reliable means for evaluating current prosecutorial institutions and processes, developing targeted prosecutorial reform programs and monitoring progress toward establishing more accountable, effective and independent prosecutor offices.

Additionally, we have developed the Detention Procedure Assessment Tool (DPAT) to evaluate pre-trial detention and sentencing practices through the prism of international standards and best practices. We piloted the tool in Armenia in 2010, and the DPAT methodology has since been used in Belize, Lebanon, Nicaragua and Serbia.

Legal Practice

ABA ROLI works with lawyers and bar associations around the world to provide technical assistance to build a strong, effective and independent legal profession. ABA ROLI provides support in three main areas: professional development of lawyers, technical assistance to bar associations and assessments of the state of the legal profession.

Legal professional development

ABA ROLI supports the professional development of lawyers by working with advocate training institutes and bar associations to design and conduct continuing legal education on a variety of topics, including trial advocacy skills, law practice management, alternative dispute resolution, mediation and court procedures. We have provided skills training for trial lawyers in countries transitioning to the accusatorial system in more than a dozen countries. These programs strengthen the practical skills of legal professionals and increase their substantive knowledge of the law, allowing them to serve their clients more effectively.

Developing effective bar associations

ABA ROLI’s programs help to increase the capacity of bar associations, creating independent, self-governing, effective, and sustainable organizations capable of providing the crucial services required to advance the legal profession. We support and work with a variety of legal professional organizations, including those for young lawyers and for female lawyers, and regional bar networks. Our efforts include assistance in drafting ethics and disciplinary codes, as well as setting standards for entering the legal profession. We have also assisted with the creation and facilitation of bar examinations.

Assessing the legal profession

To help strengthen the independence and professionalism of lawyers around the world, we have developed the Legal Profession Reform Index (LPRI), which provides an empirical basis for examining the independence and effectiveness of legal professionals and the environment in which they practice. To date, we have conducted LPRI assessments in more than 15 countries. These assessments guide ABA ROLI, local justice-sector partners and international organizations in the development of more informed and targeted programming, and they empower legal professionals themselves to take a more active role in promoting legal reform and the rule of law in their countries.

In 2013, we developed the Analysis of Criminal Defense Advocacy (ACDA) methodology, and piloted it to produce a comparative analysis of criminal defense capacity in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia and Serbia. A strong, independent and effective criminal defense bar is essential to protect the rights of citizens and to boost public confidence in the criminal justice system, and the ACDA provides an empirical basis for analyzing the criminal defense in one country or comparatively in several countries.

ABA ROLI also designs tailored legal profession assessments, which can be implemented to analyze particular issues or legislation affecting lawyers in a host country.

Legal Education Reform 

At ABA ROLI, we believe that developing the capacity of a country’s future legal professionals is one of the surest ways to secure lasting legal reforms. Yet, in many parts of the world, the next generation of judges and lawyers is being shaped by legal education systems that are in dire need of reform.

Often unregulated, many of the world’s law schools use ineffectual teaching methodologies and severely outdated textbooks and educational materials. In addition, corruption and lax standards at some law schools allow students to obtain a degree with little evidence of acquired skills and knowledge, degrading the value of a law degree and diluting the pool of competent, practice-ready law graduates. In response to such challenges, ABA ROLI works with universities to support curriculum and accreditation reform, clinical legal education, and moot-court and mock-trial activities. We also promote the use of modern, interactive teaching methodologies that engage students and build their critical and analytical skills.

ABA ROLI’s Legal Education Reform Index evaluates a country’s legal education system by analyzing those laws that regulate higher education institutions and law schools. We also conduct in-depth interviews with law students and professors, lawyers, and governmental and non-governmental stakeholders to determine the degree to which a country’s legal education system complies with these laws as well as international best practices.