Iraqi legal system continues to strengthen
January 31, 2009
CAMP VICTORY, Iraq - In an embattled country, long scorched and scared by war, hope rises. A better, brighter tomorrow slowly unfolds with hope for her children, and their children, shining on.
One part of a new strength and foundation for Iraq's future is the authority, recognition and enforcement of hew laws. As the Iraqi Security Forces continue to improve their ability to protect Iraq's people, the importance of a strong judicial branch that can help bring criminals to justice radiates.
"I think the (Iraqi legal system) is improving," said Capt. Ronald Alcala, Multi-National Division - Center Rule of Law chief. "Coalition forces have had a huge impact, by helping to professionalize the ISF, as well as by providing training on crime scene management and investigative procedures."
The Iraqi legal system places more of an emphasis on testimonial evidence, usually comprised of two or more witnesses, and less on CSI-type evidence, Alcala added.
"We're trying to introduce scientific evidence into courtrooms," he continued. "Iraqi prosecutions have traditionally relied on eyewitness statements over physical evidence. It was a testimony-based system. Slowly, though, judges are becoming more receptive to the use of forensic evidence, such as blood evidence and DNA, in court."
Forensics is only one area where Iraq's law differs from that in the United States. Iraq's legal system is based on the civil law system, which emphasizes legal texts and reliance on a code of laws, whereas the U.S. legal system is a common law system, which emphasizes case law and precedent.
Iraq's legal setup has worked, since the downfall of Saddam Hussein, to improve the supremacy of law, equality before law, predictability of law and judicial independence - four areas that were lacking prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Continuing forward, the detention system is a problem for Iraq's criminal justice system, as there is overcrowding at facilities around the MND-C area. Additional prisons are in the works, but, as Alcala said, "you can't build a prison overnight."
While new prisons and courthouses continue to go up around Iraq, Alcala sees a sense of honor permeating the Iraqi population.
"We have talked to many Iraqis. Many of them believe their legal system is functioning well - a very good sign heading forward. Iraqis generally believe their judicial system is a fair and just system," he said, "but there is still a lot of work to be done."
Another area of pride for the Iraqi legal system is the work of judges, according to Alcala.
"The judges have a lot of pride in their work. They have been very courageous, dealing with threats and judicial intimidation, but refusing to be deterred. They go to their offices everyday to do their job," he added. "They've definitely done their part to stand up to the forces working to tear down what the Iraqi people and the Coalition have worked so hard to build."
The ability of Coalition forces to detain and arrest criminals has changed, due to the Status of Forces Agreement between the United States and Iraq.
"We have to do everything (involving criminal detention) with the Iraqis now. We need to work by, with, and through the Iraqis, and with respect for Iraqi law," said Alcala, mentioning that prisoners held over 24 hours need to be brought before a judge and searches of Iraqi buildings and homes need to have warrants, subject to a few exceptions.
Future changes to the Iraqi legal system are likely; however, all advancements and tweaks have one goal in mind: a safer, stable Iraq for future generations to enjoy.