Building Judicial Integrity in Tunisia

By Judge Ivana Hrdličková

In March 2012, the CEELI Institute began participating in an important and exciting project to train Tunisian judges. Funded by the Swedish International Legal Assistance Consortium (ILAC), the project, “Judging in a Democratic Society,” aims to conduct training courses in judicial independence, judicial ethics, and court administration, over an 18-month period. Joel Martin, the Institute’s Director for Special Projects, leads a diverse faculty selected by experienced judges and lawyers from the U.S. and a number of post-revolutionary countries, including the Czech Republic.

Now in a post-revolutionary stage, Tunisia played an important role in the Arab Spring. The Arab Spring began there and Tunisians are rightfully proud of their “jasmine” revolution. The country is at work on a new constitution and awaiting elections, expected in the coming year.  While in many respects Tunisia already has a developed legal code patterned after the French system, the judiciary’s transition into a new era stands as one of the country’s most important post-revolutionary goals. Tunisia feels the world watching and expecting it to lead the continuing democratization in the Arab world.

Tunisian judges understand that their country needs an independent, professional, and effective judiciary as one of its three branches of government. But judges face many challenges in the process of judicial transition: they must learn how to be impartial, how to maintain high professional and ethical standards, and how to teach the public what judicial independence really means. The judges understand they must show the public that an impartial and independent judiciary is the right and duty of all of society. The media play an important role in every society, and judges therefore must be trained to engage with the media and to work to avoid possible misunderstandings. Relatedly, public confidence in the judiciary is also a highly discussed topic.  The judges are aware that they must work to build public trust, and we had lively sessions sharing and discussing ideas to address this vital issue in the short-term and long-term. Nevertheless, as is the case with many judges in post-revolutionary countries, Tunisian judges will encounter difficulties in work conditions, the quantity and professional quality of court staff, and their salaries, among other areas.

Members of the faculty are knowledgeable about the processes of judicial transition in a number of countries and are experienced teachers. They frequently discuss their own experiences in connection with the types of challenges faced by judges in Tunisia. Each training is conducted in a highly interactive teaching manner, including heavy use of case studies and practical examples. The judges have appreciated this methodology, and all of them participate very actively. They enjoy listening to examples from other countries, sharing their own thoughts and experiences, and discussing possibilities to improve the situation within the Tunisian judiciary.

Each training session brings together a group of 30 judges from different courts and various court levels. The forum provides an exclusive opportunity for judges to meet their colleagues from distant parts of Tunisia, to get to know one another, and to begin working together on common goals. As part of the training, each judge also crafts a personal action plan. The participants welcome this aspect as a great opportunity to continue the work started in the trainings and to be in touch with one other, as well as with the Faculty members.

While much more could be said of the training process for Tunisian judges, the main benefit probably remains the effectiveness of sharing experiences, establishing and deepening diverse contacts, and collaborating on shared initiatives. We continue our work so that the remaining training sessions will continue to bring such important results.

About the Author: 

Dr. Ivana Hrdlickova is a Judge in the courts of the Czech Republic and a Legal Expert for the Council of Europe regarding anti money laundering issues.  She is also a researcher in Islamic Sharia law, with a focus on Human and Women Rights and Islamic finance in International and Islamic law. She has served on a number of international legal and judicial projects in this capacity, including the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership efforts to increase judicial cooperation between the Mediterranean-European Development Agreement countries.   She has also worked with the CEELI Institute (Prague), the International Association of Women Judges , Salzburg Global Seminar and other international organizations.

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