Court visit in Sfax, Tunisia – “The regional perspective is important”

Sfax is not Tunis. Being the “capital of the south” and industrial center of Tunisia, the city, as well as its’ judiciary, plays an important role in the country. Understanding the challenges of the Tunisian judiciary, makes visiting the Sfax court is an important part of the puzzle. On 11 November, ILAC programme manager Rhodri Williams and Tunisia representative Leila Dachraoui together with ILAC Head of Communications Per Lagerström, visited Sfax in order to follow up the personal action plans of the judges who have participated in the ILAC programme Training of Tunisian judges.


Right from the start of the visit to the court to the regional capital, and Tunisias second largest city, there is a no question that there are both national as well as strong regional perspective within the country. The president of the court, Judge Imed Kaaniche, started of by suggesting that the future trainings of judges are to be held regionally, instead of gathering all the country’s judges to Tunis.
– Apart from the logistic advantages, the training could focus more on regional specifics and challenges, says judge Imed Kaaniche.

Growing workload
Today the main challenges of the court of Sfax, as of many other courts in the country, is the huge and growing workload. The gathered alumni judges at the meeting all agreed that this is significant to all courts of major cities, and something that judges from these courts could benefit of sharing with others.
– I especially enjoyed the work group sessions at the training says judge Kamel Eloueti, who participated in a course in July 2012. The discussions on the code of conduct for judges we had at the course was really fruitful, and even though we still have ways to go before these codes are in place, we’ve been able to continue that discussion here at our own court.

Faouzi Masmoudi, who ILAC interviewed when he was attending the CEELI session in March 2014, considers the personal action plan that he developed during the training as an “added value” in his work. With 24 years of practice and experience he has adjusted the way he and his colleagues organises hearings, having all parties notified earlier, and given a better understanding to the whole process. Including showing up for meeting on time.

When asked whether or not his new methods can be generalised and used by others, judge Masmoudi refers to the importance of receptive, responsive and supportive management of the courts.
– Fortunately we do have that in our management, says judge Masmoudi, praising both the president and chief prosecutor of the Sfax court.


Sfax judges Wiem Ayadi, Faouzi Masmoudi and Nabiha Ayari,
Sfax judges Wiem Ayadi, Faouzi Masmoudi and Nabiha Ayari.

A program in development
When listening to the experiences from the IBA and CEELI training sessions from judge Wiem Ayadi and Nabiha Ayari, who both attended the training in early 2012, there are clear signs that the training program has developed over time. When judge Ayari and Ayadi participated there were no personal action plans within the curriculum, and the course was more based on international experts listening to the experiences from Tunisian judges, than giving concrete advice and focusing on things that could be changed back at the courts. Since then, the judges personal action plans plays a much more important part of the courses, and gives judges, as well as ILAC, a better chance to follow up on the courses.

Judge Ayari, who really appreciated the discussions on judiciary independence during the training, is also suggesting that ILAC move its’ assistance in a more practical direction.  From an ILACs perspective, Rhodri Williams highlighted the division of responsibility between the international consortium and the Tunisian Ministry of Justice.
– The coming assessment on court administration in January 2015 is one way of ILAC following up on the demands and suggestions from the trainings, but we’re also working closely with the Tunisian MoJ in order to define what can be done with international assistance, and what needs to be done by the Tunisian authorities, with Tunisian funding.

Clerks and judges working together
When presenting the forthcoming assessment on court administration with chief clerk Nabil Jinaf and the other graffiers of the Sfax court, ILAC receives a very positive feedback. Even though a new program on court efficiency is yet to be funded, the acknowledgement in itself is highly appreciated.
– The file of a case is born on in the clerks office, and this is where it all ends up, mr Nabil Jinaf says. The work of the graffier and the judges is highly interdependent, and it’s about time that the situation of the court administration is getting more attention.

Mr Jinaf is far from being alone in his opinion. The issue of the huge work load and insufficient administration is something that’s been addressed at the judges’ trainings over and over again. As expressed by longstanding IBA trainer judge Nick Stannage in an interview lately: “it’s not the willingness that stops the Tunisian judges from acting for progress and change, it’s the workload of the whole judiciary”.