The language used in judgements is often convoluted and hard to understand. The documents abound with legal provisions or statutes, which do not necessarily contribute to the reasoning of the decision taken.
In most cases, the evidence presented is just described, without any examination. Decisions often paraphrase witness statements without analysing the relationships between different pieces of testimonies or evidence, such as corroboration or inconsistency.
In assessing evidence, judges sometimes confine themselves to standard phrases such as “the court assesses the testimony of witness X critically”, instead of dealing with the specificities of a given piece of evidence and providing reasons for their assessment.
Here are few conclusions of “Judgement-drafting and Training on Legal Writing in the Republic of Moldova” study, which was produced in the framework of a project financed by the U.S. Embassy and implemented by the United Nations Development Programme Moldova, in partnership with the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). The report was presented during an online meeting on 7 April 2021, which was attended by over 50 representatives of the judicial system, development partners and academia.
The study was developed by the international expert Holger Hembach, based on the analysis of dozens of court decisions and judgments, as well as interviews with judges, prosecutors, NIJ trainees, etc.
“This report will support both trainees and magistrates, so that the act of justice is understood by the people,” noted Alexandru Plesca, State Secretary, Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Moldova.
The shortcomings revealed by the report are mainly attributed to the lack of formal training in drafting legal texts, as well as the heavy workload of judges.
Since 2007, the National Institute of Justice has been empowered to provide initial and continuing training for prosecutors and judges. Recently, with the support of UNDP and of the U.S. Embassy, the NIJ changed its training methodology. The initial training is now mainly conducted on the basis of mock trials, in which candidates enrolled in the NIJ assume the roles of judges, prosecutors etc., under the guidance of experienced legal practitioners, mostly practicing judges and prosecutors.
“This report contributes to the modernization of training process, as it offers valuable data, reflecting the reality when the interviews for this research were conducted. Now, we rely on mock-up trials, that account for 85%, while in 2015-2016, they were covering only 5%,” says Diana Scobioala, Director of the National Institute of Justice.
The author of the study recommends a separate course on legal writing, focusing on coherence and writing style, rather than the formalities of judgements or other legal decisions.
The report also suggests establishing of a working group to review current practice of judgement drafting and ways to improve it. These should be included in a set of recommendations on how to draft judgements best in accordance with the legal framework of the Republic of Moldova, recommendations which should ultimately be endorsed by the Supreme Court of Justice by way of an advisory opinion.
The National Institute of Justice is a strategic partner of the UNDP and the U.S. Government, which has benefited from assistance in modernizing the selection process and training of future judges and prosecutors. At the same time, the NIJ premises became accessible to people with disabilities.
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