Mexico Changes Its Legal System

Mexico is taking on the gargantuan task of overhauling its judicial system. Rod Rice reports a University of Houston law professor and expert in Mexican law says the country has begun to move court proceedings from a closed room to a public setting.

“The Mexican litigation system is a black box where certain papers get put into the black box, they are studied by someone called a judge and then a result is spit out at the end.”

Steve Zamora says Mexico has used the civil or Napoleonic legal tradition in which the written laws are specific enough that a judge applies them to written arguments and is more of a clerk than a judge with discretionary powers.

“The fact is that in today’s society with all kinds of new issues and questions coming up the judges have to make decisions and they have to have intelligence and they have to be completely respected for their honesty, otherwise it tears away the confidence of the public.”

Mexico began legal reformation in the 90’s and now an amendment to the constitution gives the country until 2016 to make court proceedings more public. Instead of judges making their rulings from written evidence, there will be oral arguments, presented in public courtrooms, as we do in the United States. But, Zamora says, don’t expect to see Mexico adopt all our legal traditions.

“I do not foresee juries in Mexico anytime soon. Juries which are so central to our system are common in the former English colonies but they’re not common in the rest of the world.”

Zamora says a legal system does not stand alone but is entwined with other aspects of a society making it a huge task to transform.

“You don’t change it immediately, you change it gradually and you have to be committed to change. Reform can not be done by simply changing the law. You have to change many aspects of the way the system operates. That’s why they passed this amendment and say, well, we would like to see laws put in place in eight years.”

Zamora says the process will no doubt have course corrections and alterations but the end result of moving the process from a black box to an open forum will have far reaching effects for Mexico.