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Visit to know the Judicial Branch in Neuquen, Argentina

Panama, 21 October 2019. Accompanied by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime for Central America and the Caribbean (UNODC ROPAN), through the project "Consolidation of the criminal procedure reform in Panama", eight collaborators of the Panamanian judiciary visited the province of Neuquen in Argentina, from 14 to 18 October.

The objective of the visit was to exchange experiences on the process of implementation of the Adversarial System in that province.

The delegation was received by magistrate Germán Busamia, president of the Superior Court of Justice of Neuquen, who presented the current judicial panorama of the province, as well as a detailed explanation of the implementation process of the Criminal Procedure Reform and the new challenges of the Adversarial System (AS) five years after its entry into force.

"The training sessions are one of the most important tools in the AS," said Magistrate Busamia.

New paradigm

Subsequently, the delegation went to the Judicial City, where they were received by Jose Ignacio Gerez, Attorney General of the Province, who presented the new paradigm of the Adversarial System which is based on the solution of the primary conflict as a guiding principle; as well as the importance of applying alternative solutions to the solution of the conflict as a way of resolving the primary conflict, emphasizing the need for the trial to be used only as an extreme measure, after having exhausted all previous resources and tools.

Gerez said that "the success of the system implies that the Public Prosecutor's Office and the judiciary have permanent inter-institutional meetings and make agreements that allow the functionality of the system".

The judicial official added that "only cases of social interest and those where the merit of the evidence must be valued should go to trial.

Yadielka Peralta, Judge of Guarantees of the Third Judicial Circuit of Panama, was struck by "the work of purification that the Public Prosecutor's Office does on the cases that come to its knowledge, having as a goal to judicialize only what is really deserved".

For Eyda Juárez, Oral Trial Judge of San Miguelito, a relevant point of this visit is "the effective communication between the Public Prosecutor's Office and the Judicial Branch of Neuquen, which has allowed establishing the guidelines for the Adversarial System in Neuquen to function efficiently".

Judicial City

Dr. Maximiliano Breide, Chief Prosecutor and responsible for the Office of the Prosecutor for Environmental Crimes and Special Laws, presented the technological innovations implemented for the management of the Flagrante delicto system through a modern, safe and efficient application created and implemented to facilitate and optimize the work of all actors in the process.

Breide shared experiences with the Panamanian judges regarding the handling of pre-trial hearings and the quality control of the processes, responding to all their doubts and queries.

Subsequently, they were received by Gastón Rosenfeld, Director of Institutional Quality of the Public Prosecutor's Office, who took the delegation on a tour of the Judicial City, specifically the offices of the Public Prosecutor's Office, the Criminal Judicial Office, the College of Criminal Judges and the Forensic Medical Cabinet.

Rosenfeld, who has the merit of having been the first director of the judicial office in Neuquén, explained the management of the Criminal Judicial Office and the system of scheduling hearings.

In addition, the delegation met with Gabriela Villalobos, Director of Impugnation and General Coordination of the Judicial Branch, to answer questions about the management of the Judicial Office.

In another order, the current reality of the system in relation to the application of precautionary measures and pretrial detention in Neuquen was the subject of Carina B. Álvarez's presentation. Álvarez, Criminal Judge and President of the College of Judges and Pablo Vignaroli, Chief Prosecutor of the Public Prosecutor's Office of Neuquen.

Institutional Communication

Juan Agustin Garcia, Chief Prosecutor of the Public Prosecutor's Office of Neuquen, gave a detailed presentation on the development and management of the intermediate hearing, specifically on the topics related to the control of the accusation and the evidentiary purging.

During this study visit, the Panamanian delegation was also received by Sebastian Lafon, Head of the Office of Communication and Image of the Public Prosecutor's Office, who was in charge of explaining the institutional communication policy.

Lafon emphasized the tools to legitimize the management of judicial bodies, emphasizing the importance of effective and efficient communication in cases by judges through simple language when drafting their sentences.

Finally, Cecilia Basterrechea, Deputy Director of Mediation and Criminal Conciliation of the Public Prosecutor's Office, shared her knowledge and experiences regarding the effective application of Restorative Criminal Justice, specifically conciliation and criminal mediation, as alternative methods for conflict resolution.

Learnings

During her visit to Neuquén, Isabel Cabal, in charge of the Management Model of the Office for the Implementation of the Accusatory Criminal System (OISPA) of the Judicial Branch, drew her attention to "the dynamics and selection process of the jury of conscience prior to the oral trial (...) The formality and importance of this hearing, as well as the active participation, both of the intervening parties and of the judge of the case, to determine the choice of the jury".

For this collaborator, "the implementation of this practice would allow Panama to have a jury better prepared about its function within the trial for the making of its decision; that the parties have the opportunity to select a jury as impartial as possible and avoid any type of delay at the time of the oral trial".

According to Cabal, experiences such as these "enrich enormously the forensic and professional practice" she carries out in Panama and "provide her with ideas that can easily be implemented in the country, without the pressing need to make substantial changes to our legislation.

Positive changes

The visit to Neuquén offered Eyda Juárez, Judge of the San Miguelito Oral Trial, "a positive outlook to understand, that despite the budgetary obstacles that make it difficult to reach a level of efficiency and the criticisms made of the SPA in Panama, changes can be made in the short and medium term", and that these changes can be made "from all levels of intervention, from the highest authorities of the Judicial Branch and the Public Prosecutor's Office, as well as from guarantee judges, trial and compliance courts, as well as from the Public Defense Service, through inter-institutional dialogue and good judicial practices on the part of the system's actors, in order to avoid congestion in the system".

"The visit is of great value for the work we do in our country as multipliers of the good practices observed," says Yadielka Peralta, judge of Guarantees of the Third Judicial Circuit of Panama.

She adds that these experiences serve to "promote meetings with the main actors of the system and to be able to give different approaches to some norms that, as we could analyze, are similar, but with simple solutions we can improve the service we provide".