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March 08, 2016

Macedonian lawyer Works to Strengthen Criminal Justice Systems in Her Country and Region

Ruzica Nikolova is a service-oriented Macedonian criminal defense lawyer. Over the years, she has served as a trainer—educating her fellow criminal defense lawyers on new laws and procedures, as well as on practical skills. She has also served on technical committees of both national and regional lawyers’ associations. Ruzica says that the ABA Rule of Law Initiative’s (ABA ROLI’s) trainings helped her contribute in ways she wouldn’t have foreseen early on in her career.

Through her involvement with the BRRLN working group, Ruzica says she wants to support efforts to establish a strong defense bar association in Macedonia.

A member of the ABA ROLI-supported Balkans Regional Rule of Law Network (BRRLN), Ruzica currently sits on one of the network’s five working groups—the one that focuses on fostering the independence of the region’s bar associations. Launched in 2013, the BRRLN allows lawyers, bar associations and civil society organizations in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia and Serbia to build ties with each other to strengthen defense advocacy and the rule of law in the region.

Through her involvement with the BRRLN working group, Ruzica says she wants to support efforts to establish a strong defense bar association in Macedonia. She says that the Balkans countries face similar challenges in strengthening their criminal justice systems and the legal profession. That, she adds, “[makes the] BRRLN an excellent [avenue] to share best practices, identify common problems and fight together for the role of advocacy in the region.”

While the BRRLN has created opportunities for Ruzica to contribute to regional efforts, her support for efforts to strengthen the criminal justice system started a couple of years back at home. Seven years after Ruzica graduated from law school, Macedonia adopted a Criminal Procedure Code that transitioned its criminal justice system from an inquisitorial to an adversarial one. The CPC redefined the role of criminal defense advocates during investigation and trial, and introduced plea bargaining. The transition meant that criminal defense lawyers needed to enhance their legal-writing as well as trail-advocacy skills to practice law effectively. To help prepare lawyers for the new criminal justice system, between 2011 and 2015, ABA ROLI implemented a program, training more than 25 percent of Macedonia’s more than 2,500 advocates on the CPC and on legal advocacy skills.

Ruzica was one of the 628 criminal defense lawyers who took advantage of ABA ROLI trainings. In 2012 and 2013, she participated in several ABA ROLI-organized trainings on the CPC, and on basic and advanced trial skills. Ruzica says that the trainings “had a great impact on the advocates’ community.” The series of workshops helped to enhance defense lawyers’ understanding of the adversarial criminal justice system and its implementation.

In recognition of her interest and active participation, in September 2015, Ruzica was selected to attend a training of trainers and became one of five ABA ROLI trainers in Macedonia.

“I remember my first training as an ABA ROLI trainer where all the participants were my colleagues from the [legal] defense community,” says Ruzica. “It was a great challenge and I felt like an excited student preparing for an exam.” She said that every training she conducted “was different and presented a new experience for me.” She continued to grow as she helped her fellow defense attorneys prepare for practice under the new CPC. “I was lucky to have had the honor of teaching the courses alongside ABA ROLI’s experts as I too was able to learn many new teaching approaches.”

Today, Ruzica continues to play a leadership role among her fellow lawyers, including by serving as a member of the Macedonian Bar Association’s Board of Directors.

To learn more about our Balkans Regional Rule of Law Network Program, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at [email protected].