By Michel Nussbaumer, Director, Legal Transition Team, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and Margarita Milikh, Regional Program Manager, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, International Development Law Organization. This piece originally appeared in the ALIFDO Gazette Winter 2018 Edition.
When the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) decided to start working on judicial capacity building in its countries of operations in the mid-2000s, it looked for potential partners to help with the new endeavour. By that time, EBRD and its Legal Transition Programme had accumulated a great deal of know-how on promoting legal reforms, but there was little internal knowledge on how to build judicial capacity. Yet, this was a serious bottleneck in the investment climate of our region of operations.
The International Development Law Organization (IDLO), based in Rome, was an obvious partner for EBRD. IDLO is the only intergovernmental organization with the exclusive mandate of promoting the rule of law as a development tool.
What made IDLO highly attractive to EBRD was their approach to adult learning, using innovative and interactive teaching methodologies. This was unheard of in our countries of operations, where judicial training was often provided in stiff, old-style, academic lecture-type courses.
The first EBRD-IDLO judicial capacity building project started in Kyrgyzstan in 2006. It led to the training of over 300 Kyrgyz judges on commercial law topics, as well as a number of capacity building actions, such as training of trainers and preparing bench books. After the Kyrgyz Republic, the EBRD-IDLO collaboration continued in Tajikistan and Mongolia. Again, these were large projects targeting the entire judicial population dealing with commercial cases.
EBRD and IDLO continued to develop their collaboration in the 2010s. In particular, there was a flurry of smaller-scale projects in the Western Balkans and in Arab countries.
In all those countries, the needs were different from Central Asia. Judiciaries were more advanced and had often received significant assistance from other organizations already, often in the context of their European Union aspirations. Therefore, the EBRD-IDLO training projects tended to focus on highly technical matters such as intellectual property, competition law, enforcement of arbitration awards, tax law, supporting mediation activities.
At the same time, EBRD expanded its capacity building activities to other court professionals, in particular bailiffs who are critical to court decision enforcement. Projects were completed with IDLO in Tajikistan and Mongolia and are currently running in Ukraine and the Kyrgyz Republic. Together, we have also helped build capacity of competition authorities - Montenegro, Ukraine and soon in Mongolia - mainly through training.
EBRD also considered addressing the constant concern that courts in its region of operations are overburdened. One answer to this problem was the promotion of commercial mediation as an alternative dispute resolution mechanism. The common wisdom is that mediation can resolve disputes in a much faster and cheaper way than courts. A project was completed in Tajikistan (follow-up projects are being considered) and more are currently running in Moldova and Kyrgyzstan.
Finally, the latest new trend in the collaboration relates to gender. For both organizations, promoting gender parity is crucial to creating inclusive economies in the spirit of the Sustainable Development Goals. A pilot project currently running in Jordan aims at identifying obstacles for access to justice by women entrepreneurs. The project has high replication potential to other countries. The two organizations also launched a platform for women judges in Arab countries, which had its first edition in Casablanca in December 2017.
Experience has shown that IDLO and EBRD stand stronger in their efforts to promote the Sustainable Development Goals when they combine their strengths, resources and expertise. This makes the case for upscaling joint activities in the future, perhaps even including more topics in the current strategy. For the time being, the EBRD-IDLO collaboration already has a legacy: thousands of judges, bailiffs and other justice sector actors trained in the EBRD region of operations, but also local institutions made more sustainable and efficient through experienced trainers, renewed curricula, manuals and bench books, and generally a spirit of renewal and proactivity among local stakeholders.