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Key Text Initiatives in Legal and Judicial Reforms

Author: World Bank
Date: 2004
Size: 109 pages (544 KB)

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Devising a programme to reform a court, property registry, regulatory agency, or other legal institution is a difficult job. Realising a reform presents an even greater challenge. The inertia that arises from long-standing practice, the opposition of powerful interests, and the sheer complexity of the undertaking, all conspire to frustrate even the most dedicated reformer. Furthermore, because the 'science of institutional reform' is itself underdeveloped, policymakers have no ready made formulae to which they can turn in crafting a reform strategy. This selection of papers from the World Bank attempts to provide some insights on how a reform programme can be realised.

The research seeks to draw lessons from the history of earlier reform initiatives. The papers range from broad, multi-country studies of efforts that lasted decades, to reviews of individual projects in a single country. The papers are divided according to whether the principal focus is (1) primarily historical, (2) programme strategy, (3) the efficacy of external support, or (4) targeted reviews of specific country programmes.

What the rule of law means and how it can be established remain contested terrains. Accordingly, projects supported by aid organisations tend to focus on improving a number of elements within the broad judicial system. The papers present lessons learned in applying various reform strategies and discuss how they can be improved. Other findings from the papers include:

  • Code reform and law revision have occupied a major, if initially unanticipated, role in USAID’s Administration of Justice Projects in Latin America
  • Judicial training is common to most assistance projects because it is required to transfer new skills, procedures, and technologies
  • The emphasis on political will, constituency building, and public support was a late addition to US donor assisted justice programmes. Furthermore, these were too technical and not sufficiently political - thus potentially serving elite, as opposed to popular, interests
  • Reforming legal institutions raises many of the same issues confronted in executive branch agencies
  • Where political support for reform was weak, training judges, improving management systems, supplying computers and other resources to the judiciary did little to improve performance
  • Aiding legislatures in developing countries is a relatively new donor activity. Because adequate experience has not yet been amassed and because legislative assistance is typically conducted amidst host country partisan politics, it is one of the more controversial and challenging of contemporary donor programmes.

Policy implications are:

  • The acceptance of the highly political nature of much legal institution reform
  • The consequent necessity of mobilising support both from those within the target institution and from civil society
  • The need to take account of the incentives of those who work within legal institutions.

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Source: World Bank 2000, 'Initiatives in Legal and Judicial Reforms', The World Bank, Washington, D.C.
Author: Sarah Bennett ,