Can a New Justice System Finally Fix Mexico’s Broken Rule of Law?

Can a New Justice System Finally Fix Mexico’s Broken Rule of Law?
Federal police at a ceremony to inaugurate Mexico's new justice system, Mexico City, June 17, 2016 (AP photo by Rebecca Blackwell).

On June 18, Mexico officially completed an eight-year transition toward a new justice system, replacing an outdated inquisitorial system, in which the court acts as investigator, with an adversarial one, in which the court is mainly an impartial referee between the prosecution and the defense. Under the old system, court cases were mostly conducted on paper, rather than in oral arguments, and convictions were often based on confessions and little else. Now, oral trials will be open to the public, and they will be based on testimony, cross-examinations and a greater reliance on evidence.

Expectations for the new system vary widely. While some believe it will dramatically reverse the dismal record of the country’s judiciary, others regard the reform as insufficient. Nevertheless, the new judicial system is a sweeping development that, if implemented correctly, has the potential to fix one of Mexico’s most pressing and enduring issues: its broken rule of law.

In 2008, then-President Felipe Calderon oversaw a series of constitutional amendments to overhaul a century-old justice system that gave the police and prosecutors vast liberties in their investigations. In most cases, whenever a suspect was identified, a guilty verdict was highly likely, as most pretrial investigations served as undisputed evidence during trial. That put suspects overwhelmingly at the mercy of often corrupt, undertrained prosecutors and police agents, who are in many cases infiltrated by drug cartels and other criminals.

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