For Ghulam Jelani Popal, an Afghan official who oversees local governments, security is the biggest threat to the country's legal system.
Speaking a lunch yesterday at Arent Fox's Washington office, Popal said many judges receive threats when dealing with high-profile drug cases. Poor judicial salaries are another major obstacle, he said, as are judges who are afraid to rule against public opinion.
"We have a good set of laws, but we don't know how to apply them," he said.
The luncheon was held for lawyers and State Department officials involved in the State Department's Public-Private Partnership for Justice Reform in Afghanistan, which provides training to Afghans on the basics of Western-style law and is funded largely by private law firms. (for an earlier story about the project, click here). Arent Fox was one of the original participants when the project launched in December 2007.
Speaking through a translator, Mohammad Yasin Osmani, head of Afghanistan's anticorruption unit and an advisor to President Hamid Karzai, pointed to recent efforts by the Afghan government to arrest corrupt prosecutors and judges as signs of progress in the county's legal system.
"I believe an overhaul of the system is essential to combating this problem," he said. "There have been a lot of good developments."
As part of the partnership, three groups of Afghans have came to the U.S. for short courses on Western law.
In January, a dozen Afghan men and women came to the U.S. for three week to attend courses on becoming a defense counsel, held at Boston College Law School, Harvard Law Schools and multiple law firms in Washington, Arent Fox Co-Chairman Robert O'Brien said after the speeches. This aspect of the legal system might be the most foreign aspect of Western law.
"Most people in Afghanistan don't realize they are entitled to a defense lawyer," O'Brien said.
In April, the partnership held a symposium with Afghans, State Department officials, military officers and academics about the future of the Afghan legal system at the University of La Verne College of Law in Ontario, Calif.
This fall, eight Afghans will begin law school classes at American Universities, funded by scholarships through the partnership.
"There's a real thirst for ideas...I found the Afghans pretty receptive," said Jones Day partner Peter Garvin, who visited Afghanistan in October 2008, prior to the speeches.