Justice in Afghanistan in the spotlight at the Foundation’s latest symposium

A panel of Afghan legal experts discussed findings of a recent report, produced by the International Legal Assistance Consortium (ILAC), on the administration of justice in Afghanistan’s courts.

The first Afghanistan Legal Research Network (ALRN) symposium of 2023, hosted by the Max Planck Foundation, was held in Heidelberg and online on 15 February. Christopher Lehmann of ILAC presented his findings on the impact of the Taliban’s effective takeover of power on the delivery of justice in courts. His presentation was followed by a panel discussion with notable Afghan legal scholars, exploring the ramifications of the empirical study with particular concern for fair trial standards and access to justice for vulnerable members of society.

The report’s author, Christopher Lehmann, recalled the dismissal of Afghanistan’s judges in 2021 and their substitution with graduates of religious schools. Besides the consequent rejection of two decades of experience gained in the justice sector, he highlighted in particular the abolition of the earlier specialised courts that had been set up to remedy specific inequities, such as the courts on the elimination of violence against women, on anti-corruption and on drugs trafficking, as well as the systemic abolition of the Prosecution Office. Among the particular challenges that litigants now face in Afghanistan is a marked uncertainty in both substantive and procedural law. However, Lehmann also noted the important role that defence lawyers, admitted under new procedures,  continue to play in protecting human rights and lauded those judges who seek to apply laws in good faith, to the best of their ability under the circumstances.

In the subsequent panel discussion, three Afghan legal scholars praised the report’s attempt to access reliable sources of information and provide empirical data. They challenged the rulings produced by the remodelled justice system from an Islamic law perspective and stressed the need for greater research on the social and professional profile of newly appointed judges, as well as enquiries into the sources of law to which they resort.

The symposium was part of a series, dedicated to the discussion and contextualisation of legal developments in Afghanistan after 2021, hosted by the ALRN at the Max Planck Foundation and generously funded by the German Federal Foreign Office.