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Associate Professor of Law Joan Blum (Photo by Frank Curran)

BC Professor Lends Hand in Bosnia-Herzegovina Law Reform

Law Prof. Joan Blum traveled to Sarajevo to provide intensive writing seminars for legal officers in Bosnia and Herzegovina
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By Melissa Beecher | Chronicle Staff
Published: January 21, 2010
When Law School Associate Professor Joan Blum took a call from Judge Phillip Weiner JD ’80 early in 2009, she couldn’t imagine the opportunity the respected alumnus would offer.

An international judge on the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Weiner invited Blum to work with the US Justice Department’s Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance and Training (OPDAT) and provide intensive writing seminars for legal officers in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In June, Blum made the trip to Sarajevo, where she spent the next several weeks helping a nascent legal system to better serve its citizens.

OPDAT’s mission is to offer technical assistance that enables justice and law enforcement authorities in developing democracies to combat terrorism, human trafficking, organized crime, corruption and financial crimes. Through the US Embassy in Sarajevo, Blum worked with the Bosnia-Herzegovina court’s legal officers — the equivalent of judicial clerks in the US — to draft decisions that could more easily be understood by defendants, victims and their families, as well as the international community.

Blum worked with the two main divisions in the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina: war crimes and organized crime. She spoke at length with the group about tailoring decisions to both a local and world audience.

“There is developing law, worldwide, of genocide and crimes against humanity,” said Blum. “To the extent that the decisions can be
accessible to the larger public, the people that were most affected can feel, to some extent, that justice is being done.”

Bosnia currently operates under a hybrid civil law/common law legal system, but judges and legal officers are still trained mainly in civil law methods. To further complicate matters, decisions are issued by a panel of judges, who often write in different languages that then need to be translated.

“One of the problems we identified is that these legal officers work with cases decided by international tribunals, yet for the most part, their legal education does not train them to work with cases because they are trained in civil law method which does not generally rely on precedent,” said Blum. “I was asked to introduce them to the process of common law reasoning to improve their ability to make better use of cases decided by other tribunals and make their decisions more accessible to a wider audience.

“I ended up developing a program where, in part, I taught a good deal of the legal analysis I teach my first-year law students,” said Blum. “It was a challenging assignment because I did not want to be culturally imperialist. To their credit, the legal officers were very open to the idea.”

Blum hopes to return to Bosnia and lend further assistance. She said she was surprised to find out just how fast change could come — a Bosnian judge who observed her seminar, Minka Kreho, participated in a decision issued soon after the seminar that followed Blum’s format:

“It made me feel like I had made an impact.”

She adds: “I really fell in love with Bosnia, with Sarajevo, a terrifically historic place, but one facing so many enormous issues.

To do a little bit to make the decisions available to the people so adversely effected by the events that led to these prosecutions, that is what makes me feel good.”

Blum said she already uses her experience in the classroom and will soon begin a scholarly writing project based on her work in Bosnia.

She plans to further study decisions of several international criminal tribunals to better understand why they are so voluminous and make recommendations about how to make them more accessible to wider audiences.