Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Mexican judicial system change

The approval of a Constitutional amendment has put Mexico on the path of transforming its inquisitorial judicial system to an adversarial one.

The United Kingdom has, of course, been the model of adversarial systems for centuries. Russia and China still use inquisitorial systems. Do our students know what that means? Do they know about the Napoleonic Code? What happens in Iranian and Nigerian courts? Our students should at least know the basics. (If you're teaching the AP course, watch for a briefing paper on comparing judicial systems at AP Central.)

Mexico adopts U.S.-style trials, presumption of innocence

"Under the long-awaited constitutional amendment signed by President Felipe Calderón, guilt or innocence will no longer be decided behind closed doors by a judge relying on written evidence.

"Prosecutors and defense lawyers will now argue their cases in court, and judges must explain their decisions to defendants...

"Mexico now faces the long, tedious task of implementing the changes, which must be in place by 2016 according to the law.

"That includes training thousands of lawyers and judges across the country on the logistics of holding a trial. Even courthouses must be modified to make room for Mexicans who will be able to attend trials for the first time.

"It will likely take even longer to change the culture surrounding treatment of the accused in Mexico, where suspects are routinely paraded before cameras – sometimes holding weapons they are accused of using in crimes – even before they have been charged..."

Mixed Reactions to Overhaul of Legal System

"The Mexican government began Tuesday to usher in a series of constitutional reforms aimed at revolutionising, in eight years, the country’s opaque criminal justice system, which leaves 97 percent of all crimes unsolved and often victimises the poor. But human rights activists warn that there are risks.

"They say, for example, that the clause allowing those suspected of involvement in organised crime to be held without charge for up to 80 days is a 'dangerous step.'...

"Closed door trials based on written evidence, in which judges rarely see the defendants, will gradually be replaced by oral trials open to the public.

"Many officials and observers in Mexico say the legal reform, approved by Congress in 2007 and by most of the country’s 32 state parliaments, will bring about cultural changes that will strengthen the rule of law in the country.

"'This is an extremely challenging reform,' because it represents 'a complete change in the culture of legality, which is virtually nonexistent; we will have to learn how to respect the law,' said José Luis Santiago, assistant prosecutor for legal and international affairs in the Attorney General’s Office...

"The reforms also create a National Public Security System, which will bring into line the rules for hiring, training, evaluating and certifying the country’s roughly 400,000 police officers, who currently belong to a patchwork of different forces. The national registry will also prevent corrupt police officers from being hired by other law enforcement agencies...

"The overhaul of the system is designed to restore the presumption of innocence, cut down the number of people held in preventive detention, and reduce the weight of confessions in judicial proceedings..."

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