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Supporting the Transition to Adversarial Justice in Mexico

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Justices Moreau and Macklin with their Mexican counterparts.

Justices Moreau and Macklin offering insights into accusatorial principles and sharing judicial best practices.

Ambassador Sara Hradecky and representatives of Mexico’s judicial and executive branches inaugurate the exchange program.

Canadian justices outlining important evidentiary procedures.

Canada and Mexico are strategic, North American partners with strong economic, political, social and cultural ties. Reinforcing this partnership, a pair of Canadian judges spent a week advising and working alongside their counterparts in the Mexican criminal justice system. As Mexico continues to transition to a modern adversarial criminal justice system, the Embassy of Canada in Mexico was pleased to sponsor the visit of two Canadian federal judges to share their knowledge and experience with this legal tradition.

Transitioning to a new model of justice

After several changes to the Mexican constitution in 2008, Mexico’s criminal justice system began transitioning from the traditional inquisitorial system to the adversarial system. While in an inquisitorial system the judge is expected to actively investigate the facts of the case, in an adversarial system the judge acts purely as the referee between the lawyers on opposing, or adversarial sides. Canada and the United States of America, which both practice the adversarial system, are important partners in Mexico’s legal transition.

Mock trials in Mexico

The goal of the week-long intensive judicial exchange program was to familiarize Mexican federal appeal judges and aspiring judges with the role of the judge in the oral, adversarial criminal justice system.

Canadian Justices Mary Moreau and Eric Macklin of the Court of the Queen’s Bench of Alberta provided guidance and feedback through a series of lectures and several complex simulated trials. The justices offered recommendations for issues to consider during the transition to the new justice system, on the management of oral trials, as well as helpful suggestions related to Canadian judicial best practices.

The program also included a series of mock trials in which 18 Mexican federal judges and 55 judge candidates played the roles of the judge, prosecutor, defense council, the accused and the witnesses in complex case scenarios. Following the mock trials, each Canadian judge provided feedback to the participants and answered their many questions in order to fully acquaint them with some of the more complex aspects of the oral trial process.

The judicial exchange was also designed to reach other members of Mexico’s federal courts throughout the country via a series of videos of the Canadian judges’ daily lectures and question/answer sessions. In addition, DVDs containing the week’s lectures are being distributed to more than 500 members of Mexico’s federal justice system.

Championing accusatorial principles

The lectures and mock trials provided an excellent opportunity for detailed discussions between Canadian and Mexican judges on adversarial system concepts. Such concepts include witness examination and cross-examination, managing evidence and its admissibility, expert testimony, objections and the credibility of testimony, all of which will prove vital to the proper functioning of Mexico’s new criminal justice system. These are all concepts that Canadian judges are very familiar with, and insights gleaned from decades of Canadian trial experience were well-received by Mexican judicial officials as they prepare for the transformative changes to Mexico’s legal system.

At the end of the visit, Justice Julio César Vázquez Mellado, Director General of the Mexican Judicial Council Institute’s Law School expressed his appreciation for this initiative and his hope that the experience might be repeated in other parts of the country.

In recent months, Canada and Mexico have celebrated several diplomatic milestones, including the 70 year anniversary of bilateral relations. Cultural exchanges, like the restoration of a traditional Canadian totem pole in Mexico City, economic exchanges like the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program and such legal exchanges spotlight the vibrant and longstanding friendship between Mexico and Canada. Cooperation between our two nations is a priority for Canada, and we look forward to more stories of success with our North American partner.


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