An important step in Mexican judicial reform happened yesterday as Mexican lawmakers agreed to a proposed amendment to Mexico's constitution that would do several things to improve their judicial system and move it further toward an American-style system. The amendment still will need to be approved by 17 of Mexico's 31 states before being ratified, but has strong support from all political parties and President Calderon.
There are several key portions of the amendment (as reported by the Associated Press). The first is that judges will now be able to hear oral arguments in public from lawyers, instead of relying solely on written arguments. One of the major hang-ups with the Mexican judicial system is that trials currently take place behind closed doors and take a very long time due to the burdensome system of presenting all arguments in writing. Oral arguments will speed up the process, thus helping with the large backlog of proceedings many courts have. And allowing them to be open to the public will provide additional transparency that will limit corruption. [Note that Mexico does not have jury trials - judges decide everything.]
Another important provisions is that Mexicans will now have an assumption of innocence until proven guilty (something most Americans take for granted).
Finally, a more minor, but important, provision is that qualified public defenders will now replace "advocates" (who are often poorly trained and lack law degrees) during trials.
These reforms are being hailed as the most comprehensive judicial reforms in over a century in Mexico and should improve the Mexican court system over time. Other provisions in the amendment are meant to help Mexico deal with criminals and drug gangs - by toughening some of their laws and procedures. It should also be noted that in order to get the amendment through the Mexican Congress, a provision allowing warrantless searches of homes in exigent circumstances was stripped from the amendment. Human rights groups had strongly objected to these provisions.