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Criminal Justice

Criminal Justice


Strengthening Anti-Crime Capacity in Panama in the Context of the Transition to the Adversarial Legal System (SPA) (2017-2020)

Anti-Crime Capacity Building Program of Global Affairs Canada (ACCBP)

Panama benefits from a strong, growing economy promoted by its strategic location between the two American land masses. However, this also attracts high levels of organized, transnational crime. There are at least 204 criminal gangs active in the country with increasing involvement in the international drugs trade. According to Insight Crime, while more than 200 people have been detained for gang activities this year, not one gang member has been convicted or sentenced by the Panamanian justice system since 2013  

Panama is one of the last Latin American countries to move from an inquisitorial to an adversarial justice system. Responsibility now lies in the hands of newly adapting prosecutors to gather and preserve evidence, run complex investigations and carry out successful prosecutions to tackle transnational organized crime. Following the success of projects in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, Panama has welcomed the expertise of JES to help tackle the huge challenges this presents.  

JES expanded its work to Panama in September 2015. JES found there was an excellent foundation on which to incorporate a successful approach to combatting transnational organized crime. However, the greater challenge of bringing complex investigations into criminal associations to trial had yet to be tackled.

JES collaborated with Canadian experts to train police, prosecutors, the national forensic laboratory and judges over the first two years in the following three areas: Evidence Collection and Preservation; Case Management and Investigation; and Trial Preparation and Prosecution. Canadian experts trained trainers throughout Bocas del Toro and Chiriquí, provided coached senior managers and left training materials that were adapted to the Panamanian context.

JES has developed a successful pilot program with a holistic approach to organized crime. This program was replicated in the first judicial district (provinces of Panamá and Darién) at the time of transition to adversarial system, a crucial step towards combatting criminal activity in the capital city and the area bordering Colombia.

The course curriculum uses a collaborative, problem-based learning style, with participants generating approaches and solutions from their own knowledge and experience. This method promotes higher-order skills such as analysis and critical thinking, which are essential for the success of complex cases in an adversarial system. It also ensures relevance and promotes cross-institutional cooperation, resulting in effective workplace implementation. As well, this method is an antidote to the prevailing institutional authoritarianism, encouraging participants to think for themselves and to act quickly on the job where required.

Representatives of different agencies have collaborated to analyze scenarios and gain insights through exposure to each other’s perspectives, strengthening professional bonds across the justice sector in the process.

JES recently developed a new course, using a “train the trainer” approach, to address the fundamental skills such as note-taking and interviewing. Another new course focuses on increasing the capacity of investigators, prosecutors, and judges to deploy and evaluate the product of advanced technical investigative techniques within the adversarial criminal justice system including Crime Intelligence Analysis (CIA) and Forensic Video Analysis (FVA) training, wiretap, and more.

In its current phase, the project also addresses systemic and institutional roles to enhance capacity in investigation. JES also addresses the legal frameworks, institutional processes, and strategies necessary to optimize the impact of FVA and CIA through high-level seminars and follow-up visits.