- The Washington Times - Monday, May 9, 2005

PRAGUE — When Iraqi judges talk about the personal qualities that go into making an exceptional jurist, one of the recurring traits is “courage.”

In today’s Iraq, more than two years after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the simple task of going into the office every day qualifies as an act of bravery.

“When I go out in the morning, I never know if I’ll come home in the evening,” said Judge F.

Speaking during a seminar break here, he and others, citing security concerns, asked that they be identified only by the first letter of their first name.

Judge F. remains undeterred, even though his 34-year-old daughter was killed last year. “It’s the price to pay for democracy,” he said.

For two weeks, he and 40 other members of the Iraqi judiciary — judges, prosecutors and administrators — recently considered the concepts, rules and methodologies that make up a modern democratic judiciary. The seminar ending late last week was the third of its kind hosted by the Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative (CEELI) for the Iraqi legal profession.

With organizational backing from the Sweden-based International Legal Assistance Consortium (ILAC), more than 130 of Iraq’s 700 judges have now completed the seminars, paid for by the British government.

Two past participants have already been killed, according to Judge Robert F. Utter, a retired jurist from the Washington state Supreme Court.

Terrorists killed one, who took a job with the government. It is not clear who killed the other, but in Prague he had told Judge Utter that he feared for his life because of a particular case he was presiding over involving an impassioned family dispute.

Judge H. said the judiciary had requested $2.85 million from the national budget for judges’ security this year, but got less than half that, about $1.2 million.

“The problem is there was no such thing as a budget in Iraq,” he says. “Before, Saddam was the budget. He decided.”

Once they make it into the office, judges face many problems beyond deciding guilt or innocence, including rising caseloads, increased administration and a slipshod infrastructure.

The Iraqi judges said they have computers, but rarely use them.

“I called Baghdad yesterday, and I was told there was no electricity for six hours,” said Judge F.

Judge H. was more exasperated. “We have generators, but we have no money in the budget to pay for using them. The judges have to pay out of their own pocket, so no one uses them.”

The result is that most still do their legal research without the aid of computers and write out their decisions by hand.

Among the most important lessons learned in Prague, the jurors said, were the value of having skilled court administrators to handle the tangential issues and of trying to settle cases before they come to trial.

“We are underdeveloped in the management and technique,” said a legal member of the Abu Ghraib jurisdiction, a district outside Baghdad that houses the notorious prison.

“We think our laws and procedures are good, so we don’t need any improvement in the trials,” he said, adding that their system is more advanced in at least one way. “We don’t have delays of several years like some other countries.”

But these judges see no problem in combining religious and secular justice.

One judge, echoing the prevailing attitude, said, “Shariah law is most important, but only for family issues, such as marriage and divorce and only for Muslims. Christians, Jews and others would not be bound by Islamic law, even on domestic issues.”

The rest of the civil and criminal codes, the judges agreed, would be rooted in French-style secular law, which was introduced in 1952.

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