From formal lecturing to skills building – better training for future judges and prosecutors in Moldova

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What makes a good judge or a good prosecutor? It might be just a rhetorical question in legal philosophy, unless you have a very practical task of preparing real judges and prosecutors for real life work. The task becomes even more difficult if you have to do it in a country in transition with no previous traditions of having well developed specialized trainings for legal professionals.

To become a judge or a prosecutor in the Republic of Moldova, in most cases you shall undergo one-and-a-half-years initial training at the Moldovan National Institute of Justice (NIJ). It was created in 2007 primarily to provide practical training to future judges and prosecutors. However, until recently, the Institute mostly followed traditional old type university lecturing as its main training method, despite the fact that all trainees at the Institute already had a graduate degree in law.

Both trainees and actual judges and prosecutors kept saying that they needed more practical training based on studying specific practical problems and developing skills rather than just sitting in the classroom and listening to the lecturer.

In 2015 UNDP partnered with NIJ to change the training approaches.

“You are the first to listen to us!”

And we started with simple discussions with management and tutors of the Institute (the obvious), but also with the trainees (the addition). We listened carefully to them and brainstormed together, having even crazy ideas, for example, inviting professional actors to play different roles during simulations putting participants in unexpected situations. But then it did not look crazy anymore.

At some point the trainees said: “You are the first people to actually listen to our opinions!”

Focusing on skills

So, how to bring about the so much needed changes?

The work started with identifying practical skills and competences that each trainee should acquire. These should be the goals to achieve by the end of the training. Knowledge of the substantial law is important. But equally important for future judges and prosecutors are practical skills, like communication, conflict management, case management, legal reasoning, working with evidence and many others which are not properly taught at law schools in Moldova.

After a number of consultations it was decided to design complex simulation modules that would combine teaching of those skills with substantial legal issues and problems that future judges and prosecutors should know. The difference from traditional moot courts will be that these simulation modules will include all major procedures and elements of civil and criminal cases.

What about human rights?

An important element of all simulations will be introducing human rights issues into the training modules. The survey conducted in the end of 2015 among the Institute’s trainees and a number of actual legal professionals showed that, though generally accepting the importance of human rights, they did not always see their practical value.

Being asked* whether human rights belong to books and theory and not to real life, a significant number of NIJ’s trainees (out of 47 trainees surveyed) agreed with this statement:

1- strongly disagree and 10 – strongly agree

To deal with this problem various mini-scenarios should be introduced into bigger problems that would focus on specific human rights issues and would teach the trainees how to deal with them in practice.

New challenges and future opportunities

Certainly, new approaches will raise demands to trainees who will have to do much greater volume of preparatory work. Most of the previous theory learning will move from classroom lecturing to self-study. Instead, they should have more panel discussions with their tutors on existing practical problems. The new methodology will also bring new challenges for the tutors of the Institute who will have to learn new teaching techniques and communication skills. However, contrary to the initially expected resilience from their part, most of them actually embraced the new ideas.

The reform envisaged at the National Institute of Justice is still in progress. There are still lots of things to be done in order to bring about the effective changes. However, if this reform proves successful, it can later be adopted by other institutions in Moldova. The changes in legal education and the way how future lawyers are taught are vital for the ongoing justice system reform in the country. And if the National Institute of Justice manages to develop and implement new efficient training methods, these can be later used by law schools in Moldova.

* See: “Evaluation of the Curriculum of the National Institute of Justice of Moldova”; Final Report by Dr Kanstantsin Dzehtsiarou, MA, PhD, 2016.

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