Reforming the Administration of Justice in Mexico
On February 25, 2008 the University of San Diego's Trans-Border Institute, Georgetown University and the Mexico Institute hosted the book launch of Reforming the Administration of Justice in Mexico, edited by David A. Shirk and Wayne A. Cornelius. John Bailey, Professor and Mexico Project Chair at Georgetown University, commented that reforming the administration of justice in Mexico has been a long and protracted process that has endured a series of slow changes. Evoking the complexities of police, justice, and regulatory reform, Bailey argued that priority in this area is not simply about efficiency and delivering justice, but is also related to civil society's creation of social capital. He suggested that trust in the justice system's ability to be transparent and efficient needs to be enhanced in order to build confidence and improve interactions between civil and political society. In the context of the challenges to public security, he noted that the timing of this book is critical, as a justice reform bill is currently under consideration in Mexico's Senate and House of Deputies.
David Shirk, book editor and director of the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego, presented a brief overview of the book's findings, policy implications, and direct challenges that affect the rule of law and consequently the administration of justice in Mexico. He asserted that the main challenges facing Mexico's culture of lawlessness include criminal impunity, ineffective criminal procedures, deficits in the legal profession and the militarization of police forces. He explained that a deep and comprehensive policy reform that is embedded with transparent and accountable mechanisms is necessary. Shirk pointed to the direct correlation that exists between economic development and the rule of law, stating that economic factors heavily contribute to Mexico's high crime rates. He remarked that the transparency laws passed during the Fox administration, mounting bureaucratic oversight, and the successful application of judicial reform in states such as Chihuahua, Nuevo León and Oaxaca were all positive steps towards the current federal justice reform bill. He explained that the justice reform presently being debated in the Mexican Congress contains important provisions including the use of public oral trials and the introduction of plea-bargaining in criminal cases. However, he observed that measures that include invasive wire-tapping and allow warrantless search and seizure procedures will be controversial as the debate on the reform continues.
Arturo Alvarado, Spanish version editor and professor at El Colegio de México, described the important role the judiciary plays in Mexico's democratization process. He stated that the Supreme Court has a vital function in managing disputes between the federal and state governments, thus contributing to the rule of law in Mexico. Noting that the main actor in the judicial and prosecutorial reform is the executive power, he commended President Calderón's efforts in establishing a rule of law agenda and praised his abilities to push a substantial judicial reform through Mexico's Congress. One of the principal changes includes transforming the inquisitorial system to an accusatorial system, thus allowing oral proceedings. He believes that this will prompt significant federal and state institutional modifications, but will also require law schools to refine their syllabi and law firms to adjust their practices. This will also alter how politicians view the role of the judiciary. He noted, however, that the reform has several limitations. The reform is not well-balanced because while it claims that Mexico will have an open, transparent accusatorial process, it continues to give extensive powers to state officials to prosecute crime that the police and public prosecutors are not designed to handle. In addition, the reform's definition of organized crime and argument for warrantless searches poses concerns to several civil rights groups.
Lucia Dammert, Woodrow Wilson Center fellow and professor at FLACSO in Chile, made several recommendations that she believed should parallel justice reform in order to eliminate the "un-rule of law," one of the most detrimental and long-standing deficits for democracy in Latin America. Dammert suggested that statistical measuring mechanisms should be enhanced to improve the gap in information that exists between crimes that occur and those that are actually reported. She pointed to the deficiencies in Mexico's criminal justice system and argued that problems of impunity inhibit sufficient levels of professionalism within the country's judicial institutions. Dammert added that the discussion of public insecurity in Mexico should focus on policy instead of divisive politics. She concluded by remarking that Mexico has much to learn from other countries in Latin America, but also stated that Latin America could learn a great deal from Mexico when this long-awaited reform is passed and instituted.