The European Commission is set to provide €6.65m (£4.6m) to Panama over the next four and a half years to help the country rebuild its judicial system.
The Commission said the reforms were necessary because of numerous inadequacies in Panama, including the slow pace of legal procedures, the large number of people under detention and awaiting trial (60 per cent of the prison population) and the excessive number of judgments overturned on appeal.
There are only 40 court-appointed defence lawyers in the country, with poor facilities and limited access to the judiciary, to serve Panama’s entire population of 2.9 million.
“The judicial system doesn’t meet the needs of the citizens,” a Commission spokesperson said.
A spokeswoman for Chris Patten, the EU Commissioner for External Affairs, said a restructuring plan – for which the EU is meeting two-thirds of the cost – would lead to a more efficient and transparent justice administration, an improvement in the country’s court facilities, an independent judicial career path and improved citizens’ access to justice in Panama.
Improvements include the construction of 40 new judicial offices.