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Do Judicial Councils Further Judicial Reform? Lessons from Latin America

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Abstract:

Central to judicial reform efforts all around the world are the goals of increasing judicial independence and improving the management of courts. One approach that has gained popularity in the past ten years for addressing these issues is creating independent judicial councils. These organizations take over responsibility from ministries of justice or the judicial power itself for selecting and promoting judges, as well as for administering the courts. The hope is that by moving these powers to a less politicized and less bureaucratic organization, real improvements on both judicial independence and court management can be made.

Latin America has engaged in substantial efforts along this line. Judicial councils were created in a sizeable number of Latin American countries in the last fifteen years, usually with the support, or even at the urging, of outside supporters of judicial reforms, including the U.S. government and various international institutions. These Latin American judicial councils have now accumulated substantial track records. Consequently they represent an important opportunity for learning about the utility of this approach to judicial reform, with great potential relevance to countries in other regions that may contemplate the creation of such institutions in Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, Asia, and elsewhere.

Linn Hammergren takes up the challenge of analyzing the record of experience with judicial councils in Latin America and extracting key lessons. The paper is part of a new series commissioned by the Endowment's Democracy and Rule of Law Project to provide thoughtful, practical and challenging analyses of some of the key questions in the field of rule-of-law and foreign investment.