As Panama takes its initial steps toward implementation of an accusatorial criminal justice system, it confronts a series of challenges. Citizen distrust of justice sector institutions is one challenge. According to a 2006 Inter-American Development Bank survey, 46% of Panamanians believe that the justice system fails to punish criminals.
Cognizant of these issues, the Panamanian government is undertaking a series of initiatives to bolster support for the accusatorial system and to restore citizen confidence in law enforcement, including in the national police and the Public Ministry. The ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) is supporting these efforts through its U.S. Department of State, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs-sponsored culture of lawfulness program, which works to promote rule of law within the country’s law enforcement agencies. The one-year program, launched in March, boosts the technical skills of law enforcement groups and promotes respect for human rights and constitutional guarantees.
On March 18, ABA ROLI convened an inter-institutional working group to reform police training. The group, which includes representatives from the national police, the Public Ministry, the Judicial Council and the Public Defender’s Office, is tasked with revising the police curriculum to better prepare trainees for the accusatorial system. ABA ROLI assisted in establishing a work plan, in setting an agenda and in proposing topics for the revised police curriculum.
ABA ROLI also conducted a trial advocacy workshop for prosecutors from March 16–19, which was a follow-up to a similar workshop conducted in January 2009. Four ABA ROLI instructors taught a practical, hands-on course addressing skills the prosecutors will need in the new system. More than 20 prosecutors, mostly from the provinces of Coclé and Veraguas, which will be the first to implement the new Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) in September, attended the workshop.
During the first three days, the workshop covered substantive advocacy-related topics under the new CPC. The new code entails the principle of orality, live and in-court, rather than written, witness testimony. A section of the workshop discussed addressing the court in an opening statement and conducting direct and cross examinations. The instructors also addressed trial preparation and planning, negotiation, ethics, investigation and evidence.
The final day of the workshop featured a mock trial in which the trainees assumed prosecutor and defense attorney roles and presented their cases in a simulated courtroom before receiving verdicts from the instructors, who served as judges.
In cooperation with the inter-institutional working group, ABA ROLI will define topics for the police curriculum and conduct investigative skills workshops for police. It also plans to expand its trial advocacy workshops to benefit judges and defense attorneys.
To learn more about our work in Panama, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at <[email protected]>.