UNODC ramps up judicial education through distant learning in Pakistan during the times of COVID

23 April 2020, Online - The unprecedented nature of the outbreak of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) has also opened up opportunities including the one utilised by the UNODC Country Office Pakistan (COPAK), Criminal Justice and Legal Reforms Programme to ingeniously reconfigure its engagement methodology to continue its support towards strengthening the rule of law reforms in Pakistan. A notable intervention to this end is the launch of Judicial Education Forum by UNODC, which advocates for effectively making use of a virtual space mobilised for sensitisation and capacity building of the judicial officers from the various Provincial Judicial Academies across Pakistan.  

The absence of human resource development is a contemporary challenge commonly faced by all judicial academies in Pakistan. Despite efforts, a continuous lack of time due to legal commitments and court proceedings prevent the judicial officers to effectively benefit from the learning space offered by the judicial academies. Fortunately, the COVID-19 restrictions on the movement of personnel due to a partial lockdown now offers a unique opportunity to judicial officers to use this time creatively to enhance their knowledge, skills and capacity through collaborative exchange among their peers and provincial counterparts.

In addition, the courts are also partially operational due to pre-emptive measures implemented by the provincial governments to mitigate the risk related to the current crisis through social distancing. This seemed the best time ever for UNODC to invite senior leadership from the judicial fraternity to come together virtually and explore the opportunity through the convergence platform of the Judicial Education Forum. The exchange of ideas, experiences, and best practices would also help to remain functional, innovate and learn.

UNODC COPAK successfully steered the first orientation of the virtual exchange on April 20, 2020 to introduce the concept of Judicial Education Forum, inviting top management from the three provincial judicial academies of Sindh, Punjab, and Balochistan. The Director Generals and representatives from the academies actively participated and agreed that the Forum is a timely move and an excellent opportunity to improvise and adopt distance learning as a regular feature, institutionalising the outreach and delivery of training. 

This is the first time ever that the judicial officers from the three provinces jointly carried out an informal and open exchange, which is unique given the continued legacy of firm rules of engagement in the Criminal Justice Institutions. The Judicial Education Forum is providing an enabling space to open up, share knowledge and benefit from the unique camaraderie of the legal fraternity. The forum agreed to adopt the best practices to enhance their professional expertise through continuous support from UNODC. 

The participants also made strategic decisions to engage other Judicial Academies, Federal and Khyber Pakhtunkhawa, inviting them to join in. It was mutually decided to reach out to the Supreme Court of Pakistan through the respective High Courts, for initiation of standard instructions to implement distant learning in all the federal and provincial academies.   

The tools of UNODC eLearning would be integrated in all the distant learning initiatives by the academies, especially the three modules on the judicial work ethics and integrity. 

This forum is adopted as a regular platform to be held twice a month. The participants unanimously agreed to meet fortnightly to discuss future modalities to programme efficient and effective delivery of distant learning. The Director Generals appreciated the collaborative efforts of UNODC and out-of-the-box approach to engagement that not only offsets the COVID fatigue but also provides a source of making best use of the ‘self-quarantine’ to discover new and creative modes of learning.