IBA calls for action on Latin America

LATIN America needs a recognised system of Bars to fight corruption, according to International Bar Association president Professor J Ross Harper.

After a two-week visit to Latin America, Harper said that the judiciary was in need of an adequate system of selection and payment, and that lawyers and judges required better training.

“In some countries I heard reports of a reluctance to bring public officials to trial, and concerns that sometimes justice is so slow prisoners bribe to persuade prison officials to bring them before a court,” said Harper.

“I heard of one case where an accused had been found not guilty after waiting 24 years for a trial, and these 24 years were all in custody.”

Harper, who visited Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Venezuela and Mexico City, said Latin America needed a recognised system of Bars which had disciplinary powers against lawyers.

He added: “Some countries are well ahead of others, although I visited one country where there was no Bar whatsoever.”

Simmons & Simmons partner Tony Smith, who has dealt from London with Latin American banks and corporations for 20 years, said Harper's suggestions would work in theory, but they would be effective only with other social and political changes.

He said corruption within the legal system could be expected in countries that had endured military dictatorships and hyper inflation. “A lot of countries, including Argentina and Chile, are making tremendous economic progress and there's relative political stability compared to 10 years ago,” Smith said.

“That's the engine that will bring improvements in the legal system in due course.”

Argentinian lawyer Pablo Cavallaro, associate in the London office of Clifford Chance, agreed that Argentinian judges and lawyers needed better training.

He said judges were fairly paid, but “funding the judiciary should be more institutionalised in order to avoid political interference”.

He added that the government had increased the number of judges in the Supreme Court in order to ensure the majority were politically aligned.

“Many provinces then stopped paying pensions to pensioners,” he said.

“As soon as their cases go to the Supreme Court the court, under political pressure, says they have no case.”

Heather Wiseman