// Interview: Judge Edgar Taborda Lopes
Coordinator of the Training Department of the Centre for Judicial Studies, Portugal
About the Portuguese Center for Judicial Studies
The Center for Judicial Studies (CEJ) focuses mainly on the training of magistrates. It is therefore responsible for ensuring both the initial and the continuous training of judicial magistrates and the Public Prosecution Service, not only for courts but also for administrative and tax courts.
Taking the training of magistrates or of the candidates for the judiciary of foreign countries into consideration, it is the responsibility of the CEJ to ensure the execution of training activities within networks, or within other international training organisations of which it is part. It also guarantees cooperation protocols established with foreign counterparts, especially from Portuguese-speaking countries.
It is also the CEJ’s responsibility to ensure the execution of international assistance and cooperation projects in the training of magistrates, and technical cooperation agreements in judicial matters, signed by the Portuguese State.
The institution also carries out research and study activities in the judicial sphere and provides training, legal and judicial, aimed at lawyers, solicitors, and agents from other professional sectors of Justice.
JT: What role does the CEJ play in the training of judges?
EL: The Center for Judicial Studies (CEJ) is the Portuguese institution created in 1979 to deal both with the selection and initial training of judges and magistrates, and with the Public Prosecutor’s Office. It is also responsible for the ongoing training of judges already in the exercise of functions. These are the two parameters of action of the CEJ.
JT: Since you took your training course at CEJ, more than 20 Judicial Training Courses have been held for the Judicial Courts.
How would you describe and comment on the way that the magistrate training and the programme itself has evolved?
EL: Always starting from a common base, especially because the initial training is divided into three years – one year here in CEJ, another year in court, and one last year in the same court but already working (a professional internship) – it is clear that the evolution of the means that are available and of the social and cultural situation of the country compels to an updating of everything that is done, but the basic structure at the level of initial training is identical.
Taking the continuous training into consideration, its evolution was particularly noticeable because the beginning of the use of computer media and video transmissions have led to the adaptation of the continuous training of magistrates, allowing more proximity and thus covering many more magistrates.
In the last decade, we have managed to evolve from 3000 trainees per year to 9000 trainees per year, largely due to the use of video and teleconferences. There was also a need to moderate the use of these means – in order to allow greater efficiency – to make it more thoughtful and appropriate to the type of audience that we were addressing at a given moment. We always try to balance these remote transmissions with face-to-face training.
JT: It is well known that on the one hand, the courts in Portugal lack staff and on the other hand, they would need more effective management of human resources. In addition, to cope with the scarcity of magistrates in the system, the Ministry of Justice will be considering reducing the time of training of magistrates (from 3 to 2 years).
How do you see an eventual reduction in training time? Will CEJ be able to guarantee the standard requirements and training quality if this change is to be verified?
EL: The answer is in the question itself, that is, if the legislator himself understands that a judge, or a public prosecutor, is only well trained at the end of the three year period that I just referred to – one year relatively more theoretical in CEJ, one year in court (to adapt to the reality of the court) and one last year in court working directly with the proceedings, a professional internship.
If this is the understanding of the legislator himself of a thorough training, that adequately filters the capacity, not only technical but also the personal capacity of the candidates for magistrates, it is evident that this reduction is not a good thing.
It might work out well, because the training itself is very good, and it will always be good. The point is that there will be fewer filters, in order to prevent what might go wrong.
Whenever there is a problem with a judge, or with a public prosecutor, after these years of training, after being “delivered” to the High Councils, whenever there is a fault, a disciplinary proceeding, whatever the outcome, it means that there has been a failure in the selection of staff – either because he/she should not have entered the CEJ, or because he/she should not have left it here.
However, it should be noted that the percentage of failures is very small. It is obvious, that when we shorten the period of training – a training period with evaluation and possibility of exclusion – there is less time to test, both the technical and the personal qualities and skills necessary to face this job’s distress, and to face the problematic situations to which future magistrates will be exposed to.
Reducing the training period is possible, taking into consideration that there is a risk, but also considering what is best for the system globally. The increase of risk is a responsibility that should not be taken by the training school, but rather a responsibility of the receivers of these magistrates – the High Councils.
In the two cases that are happening now, the reduction of the training period was a request of the Superior Council of the Public Ministry. Judges are not covered, but prosecutors will have a shortened training period because the demand is very high.
For many years, in the last 5 to 6 years, there have been no processes to access the CEJ and people continued to die, to retire, to get sick, and no one entered to substitute them… The posts continued to exist and, besides that, there was also a judicial reform that forced the need for more magistrates, namely in the Public Prosecution Service.
This situation requires us to have more responsibility not only in terms of continuous training, but also in terms of initial training, because it makes us choose the right questions, to make a selection of the issues, and the subjects that need to be addressed and more focused.
You cannot teach everything and there are some matters that have to be taught without reducing time because they are the basic ones. I don’t even talk about ethics and deontological issues, but in technical terms, they have to know exactly what they are going to do, and they need to have the necessary and appropriate instruments to deal with situations that they will have to face.
JT: Magistrates (judges and prosecutors) are traditionally perceived as a conservative class, not very keen on using new technological means. CEJ has focused on new technologies to support distance learning and training.
How have magistrates been reacting to the use of these new technologies?
EL: This is an urban myth. Portugal has been, for many years, ahead of most of its neighbour countries in civilisational terms.
The courts operate on the basis of a programme – which might not be one of the most technically developed, but it is a programme that was built by Portuguese judicial officials – “Citius”, it is called. The whole system is based on it, that is, everything is digitised – all processes are digital. Lawyers can only file petitions or contestations digitally.
All of this is already implemented and working – with its faults, with its problems – but it works. It is not yet implemented in the criminal area due to security issues.
Considering the use of new technologies, even the courts use it… Not only do they use it, but they have to. Portugal was also one of the countries that first implemented witness inquiry by video conference; we are not bad at this level.
Therefore, since the beginning of the training that the future judges receive – auditors of Justice – here in the CEJ, they are familiarised to work with Citius and they receive a computer with the programme installed in order to learn how to use it… Although we have scarce means, they are enough to put us at the forefront of the most developed countries in Europe.
At the level of the initial training, we use the Moodle platform. We use it internally so that we can make available practically all the materials for the auditors of Justice, with great ease of interaction.
Also at the level of continuous training, the use of either Moodle or of video conferencing or of streaming with many reception points – where judges and prosecutors from all over the country join the courts – allows an important interaction with the trainees.
It is also true that we have come to the conclusion, that although there is a lot of video-streaming broadcasting in the courts – and, consequently, one reaches more people – if this is not combined with some face-to-face training or workshops (or even with the presence of our trainers in loco, which allows people to interact more), the training is not so effective.
The distance transmissions put the recipients in a situation of distance, and the perception that they have of what has happened – especially in terms of learning – does not work as well as it is supposed to.
In the opposite way, when we have a trainer in the place, that is also there to interact with the participants, we have a huge gain because the receivers feel involved; the question is not only how to transmit knowledge, but also how to get the participants involved in the training.
There has been a dematerialisation of this knowledge also through e-books, as a way for it to be reused beyond training actions, but also through videos, and other materials.
This is perhaps one of the “ honours” that the CEJ can be proud of at this moment – especially because it is considered an entity of reference in this area, and with references within the EGDN itself for implementing good practices, that is, to do public service.
The idea is to ensure that the training actions are not finished at the moment that they take place, or what was said at that moment to the people who listened to it. The training action, as it was initially thought, is only complete when the e-book of that training action is made.
And what is the e-book of that training action? As soon as the action is prepared and the speakers are invited to participate and to interact with the trainees, they are informed of the idea of making an e-book about that specific training, which will be later available to the legal community.
After the training activities, the texts and communications that were the basis of the interventions are collected, and the videos of the session are put together – given that all the training are recorded and made available – and like this, an e-book is made.
Later on, it is made available to the legal community. That is to say, we have attained that the materials that are made available for the continuous training of judges and magistrates are also made available not only to judges and magistrates – who were not there – but also to the whole legal community: lawyers, solicitors, notaries, social service advisers, and all professions that may have an interest in those matters, and that can also benefit from it.
There’s also the advantage that this material is free of charge – hence the public service aspect – and it is easily accessible, all you need is Internet access.
JT: The reduction of the prison population (preventive and convicted), and the overcrowding that is usually associated with it, needs the implementation of alternative measures to imprisonment (foreseen in our penal code).
What contribution can the CEJ give to the judges’ awareness and information, regarding the implementation of alternative measures and sanctions to imprisonment – particularly those involving the use of means of monitoring through electronic devices?
EL: There is still a path to go at that level… The trainings that CEJ performs are carried out not only by its initiative but also to answer the requests made by the entities that rule the judges and the magistrates of the Public Ministry. It is from there that the actions are prepared and organised.
Therefore, the specific matters to be addressed are requested by these [entities], and there’s small room for other issues that are not requested, but that we consider relevant. In any case, at the level of alternative measures, this issue is approached since the initial training of magistrates.
The auditors have training within the criminal court, especially on the need to always take into account not only the alternative measures but also regarding the use of measures that appeal, for example, to the use of electronic monitoring.
A few days ago, it was held a training session both for judges and magistrates of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, which had to do with teleassistance, in collaboration with other entities.
The objective was to promote the use of teleassistance as a way to fight domestic violence, in this case. It explained everything thoroughly: how it works, the means that are available, where, when, and how to fight this social cancer that is domestic violence.
JT: How do you see the evolution of judicial studies and training in the future? What are the challenges that one faces in this area?
EL: The challenge is basically the one that I’ve referred to previously: both the involvement of the receiver, and the use of the available means (the digital and the distance ones) in the most efficient way; to make sure that people are not only there physically, but also make sure they will want to join the pieces of training and that these are useful for them.
And this has to do with the way of approaching the issues, and with the fact that training cannot be totally and exclusively legal, in a technical sense. When it is too technical – although we cannot take that part away – it is often better to read a book, and that cannot be the case.
The training has to open horizons; it has to provide instruments that allow openness to things that might come, things that can arise in the courts and in the legal world. That’s the challenge: getting people interested in what they’re going to be trained.
We have done some experiments addressing, for example, the issue of freedom of expression. We had a training entitled “Humor, Law, and Freedom of Expression”, we had another about “Poetry and Law”…
This allows a greater number of approaches and they are always interesting…
We are going to do a training action on Painting and Justice, we approach themes that allow us to open horizons, to help find new ways of not only what is in the law, but also what is the very perception of the community in which they are involved.
Courts and judges and prosecutors are there to solve problems, not only to finish the processes. It is important that they finish them, but the training has to be done aiming at solving problems.
Judge Edgar Taborda Lopes has been engaged in coordinating the Training Department of the Centre for Judicial Studies since 2012. His curriculum confirms an extensive career of more than twenty years as a Judge in several national courts and in the Superior Council of Magistracy.