By Juan Montes / Wall Street Journal
On a recent day, hundreds of construction workers laid bricks in a fevered rush to finish a new courthouse in the violence-torn city of Acapulco. Their work was just part of Mexico’s broad and daunting effort to build a new criminal justice system.
Every criminal case in Acapulco now will be heard using a new judicial process based on U.S.-style oral trials. It replaces a centuries-old inquisitorial system that effectively presumes defendants are guilty and hands down sentences on the basis of written evidence reviewed behind closed doors.
Within two weeks of its Acapulco rollout, the new system is supposed to operate across the entire country.
“This is the biggest change in Mexico’s judicial system in recent history—a cultural change without precedent,” said María de los Ángeles Fromow, the Interior Ministry official who has led the implementation of the new system across the country.
Supporters say the changes will create a more transparent and accountable system where defense lawyers and prosecutors confront each other in public before a judge or panel of judges.
Critics say parts of the country aren’t ready for the changes and criminals could avoid punishment in the short term, especially in places like this Pacific coastal city widely considered Mexico’s murder capital.