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El Salvador-Judicial Reform

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With the enactment of enabling legislation by the Legislative Assembly in the summer of 1985, the Salvadoran government initiated a judicial reform effort in collaboration with AID, which provided US$9.2 million in assistance. The program called for institutionalizing due process and the rule of law, including the speedy and fair trial of persons accused of crimes. Another important objective was to bring to justice the perpetrators of particularly notorious crimes, such as political assassinations.

The Salvadoran government's reform effort included establishing a study commission that drafted changes in the military justice and penal codes and proposed steps to reduce the prison population, create a judicial career system, and implement merit selection of judges. Progress in reforming the judicial institution continued to be slow, however, and encountered many problems in 1988. Under the judicial administration and training portion of the program, the government established four new courts in order to reduce case backlogs, completed a management assessment of the judiciary, inaugurated three new law libraries, and trained judicial personnel both locally and abroad. The government also drafted legislation aimed at improving the administrative efficiency of the judiciary.

According to the Department of State, the judicial reform program comprised a legal revisory commission, a judicial protection unit, a commission for investigations, and a judicial training program. The first component was created by decree in June 1985 and called the Revisory Commission for Salvadoran Legislation. It consisted of ten presidential appointees representing three ministries, the Supreme Court, law faculties, and attorney associations. Its purpose was to coordinate the overall judicial reform effort, to study the Salvadoran judicial system, and to develop the resulting draft legislation for the Legislative Assembly. The commission focused its efforts initially on revising procedures and laws to improve such facets of the existing criminal law system as rules of evidence and procedures, the jury system, and legal defense and detention. The commission also planned to explore the possibility of a new Decree 50-style code to prosecute crimes against the government. In addition, it envisioned longer term and costlier reforms such as merit selection of judges and judicial career service.

The second component, the Judical Protection Unit (Unidad de Proteccion Judicial--UPJ), was initiated in 1984 (formally created by decree in September 1985) to provide security for judges, jurors, prosecutors, and witnesses in politically controversial criminal cases. In the UPJ's first assignments, a group of sixty prison guards who had received training in the United States provided security for participants in the churchwomen's murders trial in the summer of 1984 and the Sheraton case trial in February 1986. The initial concept of the unit was found unworkable, however, owing to the high costs of maintaining a sufficiently large and well-trained force. In early 1988, the government was considering a new proposal to establish the unit as a professional risk-assessment team that would plan and organize protection in appropriate cases; protective personnel would then be drawn from law enforcement units or private contractors.

The third component, the Investigations Commission (Comision para Investigaciones--CI), was created by decree in July 1985 to develop criminal investigation capabilities, supported by forensic laboratories. The members of this civilian-controlled agency were appointed by the president. Chaired by the minister of justice, it included the vice minister of interior and a representative of the president. Reporting to the commission was an executive-branch office responsible for managing the twentyseven -member Special Investigative Unit, the eight-member Forensic Unit, and a legal and administrative support unit. The SIU was formed in 1985 to investigate politically important crimes and consisted of Salvadoran soldiers or officials trained by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Required by law to be drawn from the security forces, SIU members remained salaried employees of those forces. The Forensic Unit was inaugurated in mid-1987 and by early 1988 was approaching full operational capacity. The SIU and the Forensic Unit, which were almost fully equipped and trained, had made valuable contributions to the investigations of several key cases, including the Romero assassination. The investigative and forensic expertise of the two units was unprecedented in El Salvador and represented a significant step in the professionalization of the country's criminal justice system.

The fourth component, the Judicial Training Program, was designed to improve the court system's administrative management, human resources, and physical facilities. Under this project, the government established two new courts to deal with a serious backlog of cases, assessed court equipment needs, set up a new administrative unit for the court system to release judges from administrative tasks, and provided short-term training for judges and justices of the peace.

Data as of November 1988

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