Barrister helps bring justice to Sarajevo

Chris Fogarty reports

Six months service in the legal minefield of Bosnia has left barrister Jessica Simor with a renewed faith in the English justice system.

The Monckton Chambers junior has just returned from the city of Sarajevo where she was a legal adviser for Bosnia's Human Rights Ombudsperson, Dr Gret Haller. "It made me incredibly aware of how wonderful our dreadful English legal system is," said Simor of her Bosnian experience.

Although not a member of the EU, Bosnia has incorporated the Human Rights Convention into its law as well as a host of other regulations protecting individuals rights.

Haller, a Swiss doctor, has been appointed as a ombudsperson for five years, and has handled about 1,000 cases so far.

But Simor says that although human rights legislation is enshrined in law, the attitudes of a people battered by years of civil war have yet to change.

"At the moment there is a complete lack of awareness about human rights," said Simor. "I was often told people expected to get beaten up in police stations."

Enforcing justice in Sarajevo is also difficult. The quasi-judicial ombudsperson's office can make legally binding decisions, but enforcing them requires tact and fancy legal footwork to get the backing of the Bosnian courts.

Most of the work coming before the ombudsperson involves dealing with people driven out of their homes by fighting or ethnic cleansing who are now trying to get their property back.

As well as drafting decisions, Simor also helped train Bosnian lawyers working in a slowly re-generating Sarajevo.

She is now looking for assistance from colleagues in the UK to help bring about 10 Bosnian lawyers to this country so they can gain experience in chambers, solicitors firms and human rights organisations.

Simor thinks educating Bosnian lawyers in human rights is a significant step in helping a country where justice has often not been done.

For Simor life now involves a more sedate practice in community law and judicial review but also a commitment not to forget the colleagues and friends back in Bosnia.