ILAC assessment trip on court administration in Tunisia

Between 19 and 30 January 2015, ILAC is conducting a thematic assessment on court administration in Tunisia. The trip is organised in collaboration with and sponsored by NCSC and will be carried out by ILAC staff together with Markus Zimmer, IACA. We caught up with him just before leaving for Tunisia.

markus zimmerHow is this assessment trip set up? What are you actually going to do?
– The purpose of the trip is to gather information on the operations and administration of the Tunisian court system.  The strategy is to obtain that information via a series of targeted interviews with as many direct players as possible during our time there:  judges, court administrators, court staff and Justice Ministry officials who are responsible for managing the administrative side of court operations.

– We also plan to interview as many key stakeholders as possible for their perspective, including prosecutors, defense counsel, bar association officials, media representatives who report on the courts, and possibly legislative leaders who oversee the judicial system.

Through many interviews and feedback from judges who participate in the CEELI and IBAHRI trainings we hear that the needs are great, but resources scarce. How can assessments like this be used if there are no additional resources?
– There is a dearth of useful and detailed information on the operations and administration of the court system.  We anticipate that this assessment will serve to fill that gap for specific audiences in the international community such as ILAC, IACA, ABA-ROLI, UN, EU, etc.

– Even if we cannot locate resources to fund a project to respond to the reform, efficiency and modernisation issues we anticipate identifying, the analysis will be the first major review of the administrative and management frameworks of the Tunisian courts.

Is the Tunisian situation unique or is this a pattern you see in a lot of different settings? 
–  As is typical in MENA systems, the Tunisian system is a hybrid that mixes elements of the old Sharia forums where disputes were adjudicated on the basis of Islamic law, of the colonial power that dominated its institutional framework of government for so many decades, and, to a lesser extent, modern day concepts of civil, criminal, administrative, commercial, and other varieties of specialty law that the system has absorbed through signing various international treaties and conventions.

– What is remarkable about the Tunisian judicial system is the dominance to which is has been subjected by the executive power of government ever since the country achieved independence.  You can contrast that dominance, for example, with Indonesia where the dominance of the judicial system by the executive virtually suddenly morphed into an independent judicial system in the 1990s, albeit not without growing pains and some of the same ongoing struggles with which the Tunisian courts continue to wrestle – inadequate funding, persistent corruption, outmoded procedures, and chronic public disaffection with and disdain for the formal court system.

Apart from assessing the needs of better court administration. What other effects to you foresee this trip to bring about?
– As the Tunisian judicial system seeks to crawl out from under that tradition of dominance, it is unclear whether new leadership will emerge to generate and sustain the energy necessary to transform itself into a strong, transparent, independent, and integrated governmental power capable of efficiently administering justice in a manner that is fair, objective, and based on the rule of law. To that extent, our role is as much one of consciousness raising as of assessment.