UNODC supporting Criminal Procedure Reform in Panama

Photo: UNODC30 June 2016 - In the context of the project "Consolidation of the Criminal Procedure Reform in Panama", the President of the Supreme Court of Justice of Panama, José Eduardo Ayú Prado Canals, the UNODC Director for Policy Analysis and Public Affairs, Jean-Luc Lemahieu, and the UNODC ROPAN Representative, Amado Philip de Andrés, visited selected Panamanian indigenous locations in Darién and Guna Yala to observe firsthand the way in which the transition towards the implementation of the Adversarial System is improving the delivery of justice in these areas. Particular emphasis was made on the enhanced roles of Judges and Prosecutors under the new model, as well as the establishment of synergies and synchronization mechanisms between the formal and the indigenous traditional Justice Systems.

On 2 September 2011, the Republic of Panama started the implementation of the Adversarial System in the country based on the key principles of contradiction, immediacy, orality, publicity, equality, and the interaction of the parties in the context of audiences in courts so as to ensure an appropriate level of exchange of information and contribute to higher quality decisions. The objective of the reform is to achieve a better investigation, prosecution and adjudication of criminal cases in Panama. The implementation of the new adversarial system started first in the Second Judicial District (provinces of Coclé and Veraguas) and was subsequently expanded to the Fourth Judicial District (provinces of Herrera and Los Santos) in September 2012. With the enactment of Law No. 8 of March 6, 2013, the implementation of the adversarial system was postponed for two years, until 2 September 2015, in the Third Judicial District (provinces of Chiriqui and Bocas del Toro). The new criminal procedure code should come into application in the First Judicial District (Provinces of Panama, Darien, Colon and Guna Yala) on 2 September 2016.

Since 2011, through a number of different national and regional initiatives, UNODC has been supporting Panamanian institutions in the transition towards the Adversarial System, providing technical assistance and training. Three years later, in October 2014, the Judiciary of Panama and UNODC signed project "Consolidation of the Criminal Procedure Reform in Panama" to ensure the timely completion of this reform in the two judicial districts that concentrate the largest population and present the highest crime rates nation-wide.

Relevant facts on the implementation of the Adversarial System in Panama:

  • The implementation of the Adversarial System has reduced by 23 per cent the number of preventive detentions in Panama;
  • The Adversarial System has also reduced the average duration of criminal cases from 212.5 to 67 days;
  • Since the beginning of the implementation of the Adversarial System, the Public Defense has assumed 74 per cent of cases, while the remaining 26 per cent represents the sum of cases assumed by private lawyers and the cases that did not need legal representation; and
  • The previous system did not allow for the adjudication of cases during the investigation phase. Since the implementation of the Adversarial System, the Panama's Judiciary has adjudicated a total of 1,887 cases during the first two phases of the process, resulting in 91 per cent of adjudications being handed down before trial.

Further information: 

UNODC Office for Central America and the Caribbean

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