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REGION: Western Hemisphere

In “Perspectives on Mexico’s Criminal Justice System: ¿What Do Its Operators Think?” authors Nancy G. Cortés, Octavio Rodríguez Ferreira, and David A. Shirk surveyed Mexican judges, prosecutors, and public defenders to evaluate the perceptions of these justice sector actors in light of The New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NSJP) reforms. Over the past thirty years, Mexico has undergone a host of criminal justice reforms at both the state and national levels. The NSJP was introduced in 2008 and approved widespread changes to the criminal justice system, including an increased use of mediation, plea bargaining, and public trials. Moving from an inquisitorial system to an adversarial system, reforms sought to strengthen transparency, efficiency, and due process in the judiciary. Just two years after the reforms were introduced, in 2010, Justiciabarómetro conducted the first edition of this survey for an initial view of the reforms’ perceived impact among judicial actors. In 2016, the Justice in Mexico program at the University of San Diego launched the second edition of the Justiciabarómetro study, focusing on the same judicial actors. Respondents in eleven Mexican states were asked their experiences with and overall perspectives on the reforms. In total, 706 surveys were completed, translating to a response rate of 56%. The survey is of particular importance as it is one of very few that shines light on how judicial sector actors view themselves and the system in which they operate in a long-term study. Further, it is the first study of its kind to evaluate the opinions of judicial actors during two different stages in a criminal justice reform process.

General Survey Findings

The study first focused on judicial actors’ experiences within their professional roles and their adjustment to the NSJP. Respondents answered questions regarding their professional profile, salary, workload, training, and satisfaction with the NSJP, among other issues. The study also provided important findings on the perception of judicial actors toward Mexico’s pre-reform justice system. While findings varied among states, many respondents believed the old system was both “effective and efficient.” For example, in both 2010 and 2016, actors reported feelings of foreign imposition in connection to the NSJP, which they believed was a campaign to “disqualify Mexico’s traditional model of criminal procedure.” Despite some positive views of the pre-reform criminal justice system, 89% of judicial actors still believed that it needed reform. A majority of actors believed the new reforms were effective in the reduction of different forms of corruption, such as bribery and embezzlement, in the criminal justice system.

Favorable NSJP Findings

The survey also provides valuable insights into what judicial actors believe has worked and what has not worked through the implementation of the NSJP reforms. As explained above, not all actors have had favorable views of the NSJP reforms. However, the survey reveals an overwhelming majority of actors prefer the new justice system in comparison to the previous system. Largely, opinions held by judicial actors were favorable toward the NSJP reforms when considering aspects such as oral trials, alternative dispute resolution (ADR), and foreign training. For example, 93% of judges, 98% of prosecutors, and 96% of public defenders favored oral proceedings over written proceedings. In the same manner, ADR was perceived by a substantial majority of respondents as having potential to speed up judicial proceedings, an issue of great concern to judicial actors. Additionally, over 90% of all actors had a favorable response to NSJP training offered by foreign organizations. NSJP training was offered by over 15 countries including the United States, Chile, and Colombia in helping judicial actors to transition to the new system. These statistics, taken collectively, reflect broad optimism toward the NSJP, across a range of judicial actors and Mexican states. Actors consider themselves prepared to operate within the NSJP and are hopeful that the reforms will not only improve their profession, but also combat corruption, increase transparency, and reduce crime in Mexico.


In concluding the study, the authors emphasize hopes that the study will act as a benchmark for future studies that will analyze the reform challenges and successes. Authors offer five areas for continued improvement for the Mexican criminal justice sector, including professionalization of the judicial sector, the institutionalization of change, monitoring judicial system performance, understanding the link between justice and society, and continuing international support for judicial reform in Mexico. Additionally, the authors highlight the most apparent takeaway from the survey as being a clear indication that the Mexican criminal justice system is one in transition. In achieving this transition, authors stress the importance of continued training for judicial actors, government financial support, and sustained monitoring of NSJP performance. The authors acknowledge that while the NSJP reforms have been impactful, the journey is not yet over. Mexico must continue the work it has started to achieve long-term sustainable results.

NOTE: This summary is produced by the Rule of Law Collaborative, not by the original author(s).

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