San Juan, Puerto Rico - Last Week, at the Judicial Studies Institute (JSI) in San Juan, Puerto Rico, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor addressed 24 judges from El Salvador, Mexico, and Panama as part of a Department of Justice (DOJ) training program for the judiciaries of the Western Hemisphere. Justice Sotomayor stressed the importance of their contribution to rule of law in the hemisphere and lauded them for their role in the transformation of Latin American justice.
With the support of Justice Sotomayor, and in partnership with the Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, the Justice Department’s Office of Prosecutorial Development, Assistance and Training (OPDAT) launched JSI in 2012 as a response to the wave of justice sector reforms in Latin America that saw many countries transition from an inquisitorial to an adversarial system of justice. Through Spanish instruction, practical exercises, and observations of courtroom proceedings, participating judges learned about evidentiary guidelines, the role of judges, and courtroom management in an adversarial justice system.
This capacity building is critical to the region as there are significant differences between the two systems. For example, in an inquisitorial system, judges investigate charges and determine guilt through written deliberations behind closed doors. In an adversarial system, the judge acts as an impartial referee responsible for weighing evidence and guaranteeing the rights of both the victim and the accused in an open courtroom setting.
Since establishing JSI in 2012, OPDAT and its partners at the University of Puerto Rico and Inter-American University law schools have trained over 800 Latin American judges.