The first principle of security sector reform is that it must be nationally-led and locally-owned. Every country faces unique challenges and takes its own path to good governance. But after more than 20 years’ experience supporting reform processes in more than 80 countries, we know there is much to learn from the experience of others. Facilitating knowledge sharing and cooperation across borders can help our partners achieve success.
As part of our larger programme on SSG/R in North Macedonia we have been supporting the Academy for Judges and Public Prosecutors with advice and insight to help improve training and align local judicial practices with European Union standards. That’s why we recently brought judges and prosecutors from the Academy to meet their counterparts in Spain and learn from their experience in designing and delivering judicial training programmes.
STEP 1: UNDERSTANDING THE CHALLENGE
The Academy was established 15 years ago, a significant step towards embedding the principals of rule of law and protection of human rights into North Macedonia’s justice system. Today it plays a crucial role in strengthening the independence and expertise of justice institutions by having serving judges and prosecutors share their practical knowledge and on-the-job experience. Already legal experts, they also have to be effective trainers to maintain a high quality of educational activities for both entry-level students and serving judges and prosecutors. The better the Academy’s training, the more motivated judges and prosecutors will be to continue to upgrade their knowledge and expertise throughout their careers in the courts.
STEP 2: SUPPORTING CHANGE
An effective judiciary is the strongest safeguard against the abuse, misuse, and overuse of intrusive methods by law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Since 2017, DCAF has supported the Academy to develop an understanding about European standards and good practices, with a focus on the jurisprudence European Court of Human Rights. The creation of a Benchbook on communication interceptions was a direct result of this learning process. It’s considered the must-have reference for Macedonian judges and public prosecutors on intrusive methods for information collection.
To improve its training capacity and educational planning expertise, the Academy initiated exchanges with other judicial academies in EU countries. Spain was identified as having an exceptional model for the design and delivery of judicial training.
Recently, judges and prosecutors from North Macedonia visited the Spanish Judicial Training Centers in Barcelona and Madrid, as well as the General Judicial Council in Madrid. There they shared theoretical approaches, practical experiences, and personal perspectives with their Spanish counterparts.
Participants benefited from unique access to the Spanish judicial institutions and learned about the level of support they receive from the state to successfully implement training programmes - both in terms of initial training and continuous development to keep judges and prosecutors up-to-date with their skills and knowledge.
The peer exchange helped the North Macedonia participants to understand the value of ongoing training; their Spanish counterparts demonstrated how the specialized education of judges and public prosecutors has contributed to their career advancement.
STEP 3: TAKING A NEW APPROACH
Following the visit with their Spanish counterparts, the North Macedonia Academy created a list of best practices and recommendations for improving its training courses. These included expanding the training to cover social and non-legal skill development for judges, the adoption of some new training techniques, and new methods for conducting mock trials, which are a key tool in judicial training.
The Academy also identified the need to meet with counterparts in neighbouring countries in the Western Balkans and in the European Union to look more closely at mutual assistance and the use of special investigative measures in cases related to serious crime and terrorism. DCAF will be providing support to the Academy to help them apply what they learn in the creation of new training plans, programmes, and course curricula.
Sanja Pandilov, State Councilor at the Academy for Judges and Public Prosecutors has already put in practice what she learned during the trip to Spain. “We are already working on amendments to the legal regulations in order for the Judicial Council and the Council of Public Prosecutors to be regularly informed and familiar with the participation of judges and public prosecutors in the training courses that are organized by the Academy,” said Pandilov.
Overall, these peer exchanges are the most efficient way to contribute to the alignment of Macedonian judicial practice with the European standards and paving the way for the next generation of legal practitioners.