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Rule of Law Program Brings Federal Judge to Iraq
Chief Judge Edith Jones (5th Cir.), who was in Iraq in March 2010, found a country eager to modernize its legal system and learn from the U.S. legal community. Jones went to Iraq as part of a U.S. Department of State Rule of Law outreach program, and returned with a rare insider’s look at the country and its struggle to establish an autonomous judiciary.
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Chief Judge Edith Jones (5th Cir.) in Iraq this year.
“The U.S. government’s Rule of Law outreach, in my view, is an unsung triumph of our presence in Iraq,” Jones said. “Only an ongoing program, however, can assure that a transparent and independent judiciary takes root.”
During her week-long visit, Jones spoke with judges, lawyers, scholars, journalists, and others in Baghdad and in Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan. She met with Iraqi Chief Justice Medhat al-Mahmoud; justices on the Court of Cassation; and members of the Iraqi High Tribunal, the Central Criminal Court of Iraq, and the Iraq and Kurdistan Bar Associations. Jones also had the opportunity to speak with Minister Raouf Rashid Abdel-Rahman, the chief prosecutor of Saddam Hussein.
“To a person,” said Jones, “these are very impressive individuals, some of whom have made great sacrifices to re-establish a functioning and independent judicial system in Iraq.”
Iraq’s current legal system is modeled on the civil law inquisitorial system of prosecution, and efforts are under way to rebuild that system. Jones notes that, while Iraq attempts to revive and rejuvenate its judicial system, its legal heritage may be one of its most important assets.
“Its legal professionals are proud to claim the heritage of the Code of Hammurabi, the world’s first written legal code, reproductions of which are found in many offices,” said Jones, who also visited Baghdad University Law School, one of the oldest law schools in the Middle East.
In Iraq, judges come to the bench by way of a professional track after two years of training.
“Since judges apparently start out as investigating judges, whose duty it is to prosecute cases,” says Jones, “American legal advisors have been providing significant assistance to acquaint them with evidence gathering and forensic techniques. Previously, prosecutions relied solely on the confessions of the accused.”
According to Jones, however, judicial independence and integrity in Iraq is imperiled by continued threats against judges. Forty judges have been assassinated in Iraq since 2004, with two judges killed during the last two years. Judges receive protection through the Ministry of the Interior and, additionally, each has a budget to be used for personal security. Despite this, “all judges are subjected to threats from terrorists as well as from disappointed litigants, defendants, or their families,” said Jones. “The female judges said they are fearful for themselves and their families nearly every day they go to work.”
In her visits with Iraqi jurists and attorneys, Jones discussed the development of the Iraqi judiciary and offered encouragement for further professional judicial exchanges between the United States and Iraq.