Subject: The Age: East Timor's future judges seek justice

The Age [Melbourne] Monday 13 December 1999

East Timor's future judges seek justice


They are the determined faces of East Timor's first home-grown judicial system.

From the 20 candidates seated last weekend in Darwin's Parliament House, the United Nation's Transitional Judicial Service Commission will select 10 to become East Timor's pioneer judges and prosecutors.

The candidates have been in Darwin for UN-sponsored training to enable them to start presiding over court cases as early as 2 January.

While many of the cases pending will deal with human rights offences committed after September's independence ballot, the most pressing cases remain civil disputes over land and property.

Dominated by foreign powers for centuries, East Timor has never known a judicial system guided by its own judges and prosecutors. The candidates who will soon take on those roles are all trained lawyers.

While schooled in the Indonesian legal system, most were restricted from practising in their country, although a few gained limited courtroom experience.

The Indonesian legal system will form the basis of East Timor's new judiciary. "We moved to avoid an immediate legal vacuum by employing the Indonesian system," explained the commission's senior legal adviser, Mr Hansjoerg Strohmeyer.

"But we have initiated immediate reform efforts on such important areas as criminal procedure and law."

In Darwin, the candidates focused on criminal procedure law, civil procedure law, judicial prosecutorial ethics and how to deal with people traumatised by violence.

At present, 15 pro-Indonesian militia members are held in custody by InterFET in Dili, and the world will be monitoring the fairness of the country's new judiciary.

"The challenge is to create a good legal system to enable us to get to trial people who have committed war crimes in East Timor," says candidate/lawyer Ms Lisete Quintao.

The rookie judges will be assisted by foreign mentors who will manage court sessions and advise on matters of law and procedure.

The East Timorese are in need of everything from court buildings to the reconstruction of archives and filing systems to legal reference books. Says Mr Strohmeyer: "In a very literal sense, we are building a judiciary from scratch."

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