Mexican justice system reform proves beneficial, panel says

Mary Ellen Knewtson

Editor’s Note: Portions of the interview have been translated from Spanish.

Although some Mexican attorneys, policymakers and citizens criticized the 2008 reforms to the Mexican justice system, they are necessary in light of the current system’s inefficiency and inaccuracy, a Mexican law professor said in a panel Tuesday.

In 2008, the Mexican government mandated all states change their law procedures from a written to an oral system by 2016. Before the amendment, the majority of lawyers would never see a judge, and courts would take up only one-fifth of crimes filed, said Carlos Natarén, a law professor at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

The Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies hosted Natarén, along with the state of Mexico’s Supreme Court chief justice and a judicial professor for a panel on the judicial reforms.

Natarén said 37 percent of Mexicans said they had confidence in the written judicial system, but the public is slow to accept the new one.

“In a violent environment where the public is paralyzed by fear and [policymakers] are trying to protect the rights of the defendants, [policymakers] are not going to be very popular,” Natarén said.

Eight of 32 Mexican states have already switched to the adversarial system — one similar to United States law proceedings. The system, he said, will be more transparent and emphasize victims’ and defendants’ rights.

Public criticism included accusations that the system is foreign to Mexican culture and that it should not be implemented during the escalated violence of the drug wars.

Antonio Caballero, director of judicial studies at Center for Research and Teaching in Economics in Mexico City, Mexico, said lawmakers pointed to rising crime rates as proof that the reforms had failed.
Despite the criticisms, Caballero said states that have implemented the changes are more efficient in reviewing cases.

Baruch Delgado Carbajal, chief justice of the Supreme Court of the state of Mexico, said reforms will require courtrooms, administrative buildings and attorneys to accommodate the emphasis on oral hearings.

“We lack attorneys who know the techniques,” Carbajal said. “We have to write a whole new set
of textbooks.”

Mexican attorneys need to learn techniques, such as making opening statements and questioning witnesses effectively, he said.