“One Gains As Much As One Gives”: Exploring the Value of Judicial Peer-to-Peer Learning

26 August 2020

On the 16 July, Advocates for International Development (A4ID) and the Judiciary of England and Wales co-hosted a virtual roundtable discussion to launch the ROLE UK Programme’s guide on Judicial Peer-to-Peer Learning to Strengthen the Rule of Law. Expert judges and a range of other stakeholders from across the world convened to share experiences and explore the value and challenges of implementing judicial peer-to-peer exchanges.

Moderated by Mr Justice Knowles CBE, Chair of the International Committee of the Judicial College, the evening was kickstarted with welcome addresses from Yasmin Batliwala, Chief Executive of A4ID and Lord Justice Flaux, Lead Judge for International Relations, Judiciary of England and Wales. The panel of speakers included Justice Jawara Alami, Judge of the High Court of The Gambia, Judge Reginald Fynn, Justice of the Court of Appeal of Sierra Leone, Judge Karp, International Training Coordinator of the Judicial College, and Catherine Flew, a Governance Consultant and author of Judicial Peer-to-Peer Learning to Strengthen the Rule of Law: A Guide. The 60 participants in attendance represented a cross-section of judicial, state, civil society and supranational actors, providing a rich and vibrant space for knowledge sharing and learning.

Different Approaches to Judicial Peer-to-Peer Learning

Given the backdrop of the global pandemic, the speakers emphasised that the importance of judicial peer-to-peer for facilitating experience sharing cannot be understated. The role of judges in upholding justice and the rule of law remains a critical cornerstone to advancing the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is through a process of exchanging ideas and experiences that judges can reflect and devise ways to promote peace, justice, and strong institutions (SDG 16).

The roundtable discussion highlighted that judicial peer-to-peer approaches are inherently relational, and as such, require the investment of time and resources to maintain and build reciprocal relationships. Through offering channels for ‘two-way’ learning, peer-to-peer exchanges can help provide a foundation in which to share best practice and a better understanding of the institutional, cultural, and political dynamics underpinning the functioning of judiciaries. The participants agreed that judicial peer-to-peer initiatives can help to foster a collegiate environment, which builds mutual trust and respect amongst practitioners, providing a window for judges to improve their own judgecraft and work more strategically to improve the rule of law. It is through engaging in this ‘conversation’ that judicial peer-to-peer approaches can help to develop creative solutions to development challenges across the world.

As examined in Judicial Peer-to-Peer Learning to Strengthen the Rule of Law: A Guide, judicial peer-to-peer exchanges incorporate a range of learning methods and activities. This can include mentoring, regional dialogue groups, observation visits by judges, and trainings which revolve around ongoing peer-to-peer partnerships. Over the past few years, the Programme has supported a range of judicial peer-to-peer initiatives aimed at advancing the rule of law. In partnership with the Standing International Forum of Commercial Courts (SIFoCC) and the Judiciary of England and Wales, the Programme supported an observation visit by three judges from The Gambia, Sri Lanka and Uganda to the UK. Similarly, in 2019, the Programme facilitated Chief Justices and Judges from across seven African jurisdictions to convene in Cairo to participate in the third regional meeting of the Judicial Action Group (JAG3). Among other topics, the roundtable discussion covered the role of African judiciaries in a democracy and explored the challenges linked to corruption and election disputes.

Overcoming Challenges to Develop Effective Peer-to-Peer Approaches

The event highlighted the importance of carefully navigating cultural and political sensitivities, and participants explored the challenges in measuring the impact of judicial peer-to-peer activities and examined both the obstacles and opportunities presented by virtual activities.

Virtual platforms provide legal actors with a channel to connect with actors across the world, and by utilising modern technology, it becomes possible to bring in new voices and share timely information on judicial developments. However, participants noted that disparities in internet access, technology and energy sources worldwide remain obstacles for maintaining inclusive forums for knowledge exchange online. Co-developing robust activity plans with actors in participating countries can help to overcome these challenges and ensure that judges still benefit from ‘face-to-face’ engagements.

Many of the participants agreed that it can be difficult to accurately measure and evaluate the impact of judicial peer-to-peer approaches as the benefits often emerge in the long-term. This raises questions about how best to allocate scarce financial resources and time to the maintenance of long-term peer-to-peer initiatives. As explained in the Guide, identifying the objectives of peer-to-peer activities early and embedding qualitative evaluation tools in the planning of training and mentoring can help actors to monitor progress without getting lost in pursuit of ‘the end-result’.

The roundtable discussion concluded that global judicial networks represent a critical pool of expertise dedicated to advancing fair and equitable sustainable development worldwide. By engaging in sustained and meaningful dialogue, judicial peer-to-peer approaches can foster mutual trust and cooperation between individuals bound by a common identity. A ‘safe-space’ based on parity between judges is essential to help judges tap into ‘wisdom that cannot be found in a book’. Judicial peer-to-peer activities help to build bridges between judiciaries, enabling judges to support each other in honing the art of their judgecraft and lay the foundation for strengthening the rule of law. In the long-term, the skills and knowledge gained from such engagements can help to increase trust in judiciaries and secure justice for present and future generations.

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