Pilot Institute Paves the Way to Train Capital Defense Lawyers in Civil Law Jurisdictions

In February 2019, the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide organized a trailblazing pilot training for capital defenders working in civil law jurisdictions in Africa. The event brought together 20 lawyers and experts from Belgium, Cameroon, Canada, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, France, Mauritania, Niger, Tunisia, and the United States.

Trainers and participants at the pilot training for francophone capital defenders.

Trainers and participants at the pilot training for francophone capital defenders.

 

Our goal was to gather experienced francophone lawyers to help us design a French-language version of the Center’s hallmark Makwanyane Institute for capital defenders. Over the course of our four-day meeting, we deepened our mutual understanding of the differences between common law and civil law legal traditions, and discussed how to best adapt our training model to lawyers representing capital defendants in civil law jurisdictions. Together, we paved the way for our 2020 Makwanyane Institute, which for the first time will be offered entirely in French. Like the full-length Makwanyane training, the pilot centered on experiential learning. The participants had a chance to share strategies to overcome practical challenges in death penalty defense, which will be incorporated into our upcoming civil-law adaption of Representing Individuals Facing the Death Penalty: A Best Practices Manual.

Participants left emboldened with new ideas and a transnational sense of solidarity. Discussions around the strategic value of beginning a trial with an opening statement informed by crafting a case narrative, for instance—quite novel in many of the participants’ jurisdictions—inspired some attendees to try to incorporate it into their practice. Building an international community of like-minded advocates that continues to grow despite geographical distance has proven a powerful tool to fight isolation. These advocates have continued to support one another with strategic input, moral support in the face of obstacles, and a community with which to celebrate victories.