Judicial Reform

Judicial reform plays a central role in the efforts of countries around the world to strengthen the rule of law. Judicial reform can include judicial administration, compensation, judicial independence versus accountability, performance evaluation, and judicial selection and retention. This resource guide examines international efforts and guides to study and implement judicial reform strategies.


The Asia Pacific Judicial Reform Forum (APJRF) is a network of 49 superior courts and justice sector agencies in the Asia Pacific Region who have joined together to contribute to judicial reform in the region. It resulted from the Manila Declaration on Judicial Reform in 2005, which called for a forum to learn from judicial reform successes and failures. To this end, they have developed a handbook entitled Searching for Success in Judicial Reform: Voices from the Asia Pacific Experience.

The European Network of Councils for the Judiciary aims to promote effective justice systems in Europe. One of their projects is Judicial Reform, which lists a set of recommendations for the Judiciaries of Europe on how to respond to the actual challenges and opportunities they are facing. They also have a project on Independence and Accountability, which aimed to develop indicators for the independence and accountability of the justice systems of the EU, culminating in the Report on Independence and Accountability of the Judiciary and of the Prosecution.

The International Center for Transnational Justice (ICTJ) is an international nonprofit organization specializing in the field of transnational justice. ICTJ works to help societies in transition address legacies of massive human rights violations and build civic trust in state institutions as protectors of human rights. They do this by providing technical knowledge and expertise of relevant comparative experiences in transnational justice from across the globe; advising state institutions and policymakers at the local, national, and international level; and researching, analyzing, and reporting on transnational justice developments worldwide. One of the areas they work in is institutional reform, the process of reviewing and restructuring state institutions so that they respect human rights, preserve the rule of law, and are accountable to their constituents. They also have a number of publications on this topic.

Haley, John Owen. Judicial Reform: Conflicting Aims and Imperfect Models. (2006). Efforts to reform judicial systems around the world have continued with unabated vigor for at least four decades, resulting in a myriad judicial reform efforts. The aim of this paper is to identify the underlying problems that inhibit effective reforms from achieving broadly shared goals, and suggest a research agenda to develop feasible solutions.

Justice at Stake is a national organization in the U.S. that focuses exclusively on keeping the courts fair and impartial. In states across America, Justice at Stake works to reduce special interest pressure on the courts, protect courts and judges from partisan attacks, inform Americans about their rights and the courts, promote diversity on the bench, and strengthen court funding.

Judicial Accountability & Independence

Henderson, Keith. Global Lessons and Best Practices: Fighting Corruption and Promoting the Rule of Law Through Transparency, Openness, and Judicial Independence. (December 2005). This paper was published by the International Foundation for Electoral System. IFES believes that all countries should publish an annual State of the Judiciary Report that will serve as a key tool for promoting and implementing certain reforms. This paper describes how to use such a tool to promote judicial independence.

The International Commission of Jurists is an organization composed of 60 eminent judges and lawyers from all regions of the world. It aims to promote and protect human rights through the rule of law by using unique legal expertise to develop and strengthen national and international justice systems. They operate a Centre for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers (CIJL) which aims to advance the independence of the judiciary and legal profession; promote the establishment of legal systems that protect individuals and groups against violations of their human rights; and to protect judges and lawyers who find themselves under threat. Every year the CIJL convenes the Geneva Forum of Judges and Lawyers. This forum provides participants with an opportunity to reflect upon and respond to immediate threats to their independence and ability to protect human rights by judicial means.

Zeitune, Jose. International Principles on the Independence and Accountability of Judges, Lawyers, and Prosecutors: Practitioners’ Guide No. 1. (July 2009). This guide was published by the International Commission of Jurists to provide practical insight on the use of international principles on the independence and accountability of judges, lawyers, and prosecutors. Through an analysis of all relevant standards and jurisprudence, the guide helps national decision-makers develop policies on the administration of justice and assists in the evaluation of a country’s judicial system and the formulation of concrete proposals to implement international standards.

The Center for Constitutional Transitions at NYU Law. International Standards for the Independence of the Judiciary: Briefing Paper. (September 2013). This paper sets out international standards for judicial independence, the concrete expression of two essential elements of democracy: the rule of law and separation of powers.

Judicial Education & Training

The International Judicial Academy (IJA) is a nonprofit educational organization created to provide the highest quality education programs for judges, court administrators, ministry of justice officials, and other legal professionals from countries around the world. It provides instruction on how judges and court personnel should function in a modern, fair, efficient, accessible, and transparent court system. The Academy has developed a series of instructional modules that cover all topics related to the functioning of courts, behavior of judges, and the ingredients for a successful court system. The IJA also publishes an online magazine, the International Judicial Monitor, four times a year that includes articles on various issues affecting judges worldwide.

The International Judicial Training Program at the University of Georgia has trained more than 1,000 judges and court personnel from various countries around the world. The program facilitates reform by offering capacity-building judicial administration programs tailored to the individual needs of each participating country.

The International Law Institute assists in the building of governmental and economic institutions and infrastructure internationally. They provide training and technical assistance to find practical solutions to the legal, economic, and financial problems of developing countries and emerging economies. They host a range of training programs such as Judicial, Court, and Case Management for Judges; Court and Case Administration for Court Administrators; and Judicial Administration Training. They also have a number of publications, listed in their catalog.

The International Organization for Judicial Training was established in order to promote the rule of law by supporting the work of judicial education institutions around the world. The mission of the IOJT is realized through international and regional conferences and other exchanges that provide opportunities for judges and judicial educators to discuss strategies for establishing and developing training centers, designing effective curricula, developing faculty capacity, and improving teaching methodology. In addition to hosting biennial conferences, they also have a journal and a number of other publications in their library.

Judicial Watch is a nonpartisan educational foundation that promotes transparency, accountability, and integrity in government, politics, and the law. One of their public education programs is The International Program. As a part of the International Visitor Leadership Program of the U.S. Department of State, Judicial Watch meets with emerging leaders from around the world who are interested in learning how they can stop corruption and demand accountability from their judges, government officials, and political parties.

Judicial Selection Reform

The Brennan Center for Justice works in the area of Government and Court Reform. They believe that the courts are increasingly at risk of domination by special interest money. Committed to fair and impartial courts that promote equal justice and the rule of law, they work find innovative judicial reforms.

The International Foundation for Electoral Reform supports citizens’ rights to participate in free and fair elections. Their independent expertise strengthens electoral systems and builds local capacity to deliver sustainable solutions. They do so by providing technical assistance to election officials, empowering the underrepresented to participate in the political process, and applying research to improve electoral systems.

The National Institute on Money in State Politics is an nonprofit organization in the U.S. that tracks contributions to campaigns, including judicial campaigns, in all 50 states. They have also published several reports on the influence of money on judicial elections, such as Courting Donors: Money in Judicial Elections, 2011 and 2012 (Linda Casey, March 2014);  and The New Politics of Judicial Elections, 2011-2012: How New Waves of Special Interest Spending Raised the Stakes for Fair Courts (Alicia Bannon, Eric Velasco, Linda Casey, and Lianna Reagan, 2013).

The U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform works on the issue area of Judicial Selection. Believing that merit selection processes need improvement in order to meet their goal of an independent and impartial judiciary, they published a study titled Promoting “Merit” in Merit Selection: A Best Practices Guide to Commission Based Judicial Selection.


The Judicial Reform Index is an innovative tool developed by the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ROLI) to assess judicial reform and judicial independence in emerging democracies and transitioning states. It offers international organizations, development agencies, technical legal assistance providers, and local reformers a reliable means to target judicial reform programs and monitor progress towards establishing more accountable, effective, and independent judiciaries.

The Law and Justice Institutions Thematic Group is a collection of World Bank staff who have a professional interest in advancing the Bank’s justice reform work. Group members are drawn from a diversity of World Bank organizational units that may be involved in designing, implementing, evaluating, or providing information about law and justice reform programs. This group has created a summary of the sources that ought to be used to measure the performance of the judiciary and evaluate changes, titled Human Rights Instruments and Judicial Reform. One of their focus areas is performance evaluation, as measuring the performance of the various elements of the justice sector, including judicial performance, is crucial for reform.  

Miller, Steve and Livingston Armytage. Legal and Judicial Reform Performance Monitoring: the PNG Approach. (March 2008). This paper identifies the dramatic growth in legal and judicial reform across the world of international development assistance, and assesses the particular experience of measuring performance in a substantial reform programme in Papua New Guinea. The paper provides the case study of building capacity to monitor and evaluate legal and judicial reform in the development context.

Armytage, Livingston. Monitoring Performance of Legal and Judicial Reform in International Development Assistance: Early Lessons from Port Moresby and Phnom Penh. (September 2006). This paper argues for the international community to substantially increase investment in performance monitoring and the evaluation of legal and judicial reform efforts around the world. There is an imperative to develop a more serious research-based understanding of what works and what does not. This will require a fundamental transition from monitoring the implementation of reform activities to measuring their success.

National Efforts & Organizations

The Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Judicial Reform is an Indian organization created in response to the serious problems that beset the Indian judicial system. In an effort to combat such problems, this organization monitors judges for signs of corruption, creates public awareness of judgments, tracks existing reforms, proposes new ones, and informs the public of their right to hold the judiciary accountable.

Ferreira, Octavio Rodriquez. Civic Engagement and the Judicial Reform: The Role of Civil Society in Reforming Criminal Justice in Mexico. (August 2013). This paper focuses on the role played by civil society in the judicial reform process, highlighting the efforts of organizations that have been influential and emblematic of civil activism in Mexico.

The Foundation for Democratic Reforms is India’s leading think-tank and research resource center for studying, formulating, and promoting fundamental reforms in political, electoral, and governance spheres, and in critical areas of state policy. One of their focus areas is judicial reforms. They believe that the mechanisms for judicial appointments have proven to be inadequate in elevating the best candidates to the bench, and that arrangements to hold judges accountable have failed. They also have a number of publications on judicial reforms.

Autheman, Violaine. Haiti Constituency Building for Judicial Reform: Final Report, Executive Summary. (November 2004). After a decade of lending to the formal justice sector and little if any improvement in the competence, fairness, and independence of the justice system, a new demand-driven approach to justice reform was taken by USAID/Haiti in partnership with the international foundation for Electoral Systems. This approach aims to build broad coalitions across society to advocate for and participate in justice reform.

The USAID Judicial Reform and Government Accountability Project works to strengthen the rule of law in Serbia by improving the transparency and efficiency of the judiciary, in particular Misdemeanor and Administrative Courts. It improves integrity and openness of government operations by supporting independent agencies’ and civil society’s efforts to make the government open and accountable. This fact sheet describes the project’s activities and results.

Wei, Lisi. Inside China: Judicial and Legal Reforms in the People’s Republic. (Winter 2015). This article, published in the International Judicial Monitor summarizes the judicial and legal reform efforts in China over the past two decades, and identifies areas for reform.

Nauta, David. The Judicial Reform Process in Afghanistan: In Everyone’s Interest. (2009). This article looks at what needs reforming in Afghanistan’s judicial system, and analyzes how the Afghan government and the international community have taken on needed reforms.

Support to Justice Sector Reforms in Ukraine is an EU funded project that aims to support consolidated justice sector-wide reforms in Ukraine. The project brings together at the discussion table all justice sector stakeholders in order to assist them with the development of reform strategy. The project’s goals include aligning the policies and reform priorities of stakeholder creating a viable sector coordination structure; and providing expertise for key outstanding legislation. They are working in six key areas, including the independence of the judiciary.