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Judges in the U.S. and India Cultivate a Shared Commitment to Lifelong Learning

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Judicature International (2023) | An online-only publication
PICTURED ABOVE: Andhra Pradesh High Court Justice P. Venkata Jyothirmai at the CEELI Institute in Prague during a recent faculty development workshop. Photo credit: CEELI Institute.

U.S. and Indian judges unite in judicial education exchange programs focused on terrorism, cybercrimes, and human trafficking.

Since 2017, the United States Federal Judicial Center (FJC), the CEELI Institute, and the National Judicial Academy of India (NJA) have partnered to develop programs to help the Indian judicial system keep pace with the complexities of the transnational criminal cases they are encountering. The programs, designed not only to substantively reinforce exemplary adjudication practices for judges across India, also aim to build the capacity of judicial educators and support them in the crafting of new judicial curricula centered on counterterrorism, cybercrime, and human trafficking.

Cristobal Diaz, assistant director for international programs at the Bolch Judicial Institute at Duke Law, was integral in the development of the programs in his former role at the CEELI Institute. He recently interviewed U.S. Magistrate Judges Anthony E. Porcelli and Jonathan E. Hawley on behalf of Judicature International about their experiences with the programs and interactions with Indian judges.

CRISTOBAL DIAZ: Thank you for taking this time to talk with me about your experiences. To begin, could you each please introduce yourself and briefly describe how you got involved with this effort to train Indian judges?

JUDGE ANTHONY E. PORCELLI: First, thank you, Cris, for your time, and I should say that it is a joy to be able to discuss with you our involvement this past year in a number of training programs involving Indian judges. I have been a magistrate judge for just over 14 years, and prior to that I was a federal prosecutor for 10 years. As both a prosecutor and judge, I developed a genuine interest in matters involving technology and the law and have cultivated an understanding of matters related to cybercrimes, cybersecurity, and the impact on our privacy rights protected by the U.S. Constitution by advancing technologies.

During my time on the bench, I have been an instructor at a variety of FJC programs designed for incoming and sitting magistrate judges, mostly focused on matters involving a connection between technology and the law. I currently serve on the board of the FJC and previously served as chair of the Magistrate Judge Education Advisory Committee. My time working with the amazing people at the FJC has been one of the honors of my career because it has allowed me to meet and learn from so many of my magistrate judge colleagues throughout the United States. It was through my role with the FJC that I was offered the opportunity of a lifetime to participate in this international exchange of learning.

JUDGE JONATHAN E. HAWLEY: I echo Judge Porcelli’s gratitude to you, Cris, for talking with us about our experience over the last year working with the Indian judges. I have been a magistrate judge in the Central District of Illinois for over nine years, and before that I spent my career in the Federal Public Defender’s office in the Central District. I too have been a faculty member with the Federal Judicial Center, training fellow magistrate judges for almost the entire time I have been on the bench. I am in my seventh year as a member of the FJC’s Magistrate Judge Education Committee and am currently in my third year as chair of that committee. I believe it is through this work with the FJC, on the committee, and with training other magistrate judges that I was asked to participate in the program with Indian judges.

DIAZ: Can you describe what role each of the partners had in the development of the project?

JUDGE HAWLEY: The Federal Judicial Center is a judicial branch agency that conducts empirical research into court operations and develops educational resources for judges and court staff. The Center’s International Office works with the judiciaries of other nations, providing technical assistance in the fields of judicial education and administration. Most of this work is carried out in partnership with other U.S. government agencies and implementing organizations. The CEELI Institute is a non-governmental organization whose mission is to advance the rule of law and protect fundamental rights through implementing innovative training that promotes human rights and combats corruption. Given their common missions, a partnership among India’s National Judicial Academy, the FJC, and the CEELI Institute made much sense. This initiative is funded by two U.S. State Department Bureaus: Counterterrorism and International Narcotics and Law Enforcement. The CEELI Institute is the funded entity and sought out partners that would be in the best position to collaboratively designed a project to build the capacity of the Indian judiciary.

The program was designed to support Indian judges by developing subject matter expertise using both international standards and Indian legislation and case law. India has a rich jurisprudence and many talented judges. The implementing organizations’ expertise with curriculum development and preparing judges to use modern pedagogy is the backbone of this project. The different cadres of Indian judges mastered their content and learned to use new modalities to share their knowledge with judges throughout the country.

The program was designed to support Indian judges by developing subject matter expertise using both international standards and Indian legislation and case law. India has a rich jurisprudence and many talented judges.

DIAZ: What is the goal in developing this program as you understand it?

JUDGE PORCELLI: The goal is to develop substantive, interactive programming to help teach Indian judges how to adjudicate terrorism cases, cybercrimes, and human trafficking cases, while at the same time working with judge-educators on the principles of adult education. We also wanted to ensure the educational program could be offered regularly and “in-house” at judicial academies across India. To do this, we trained a subset of Indian judges to serve in a what the Indians refer to as a “master trainer” role, who could develop and deliver workshops to their colleagues across India.

We first divided the course into three training modules — one for each core topic (terrorism, cybercrimes, and human trafficking). Then, we developed a curriculum for each training module focused on the substantive subject matter. After building the curriculum, we facilitated a series of workshops throughout the year where the senior faculty could fine-tune their individual presentations.

Since the launch of this project in 2017, almost 300 Indian judges have participated in training programs. Just about 30 of these participants have become master trainers in addition to participating in the substantive courses. The program has also attracted judges from neighboring states; for example, the terrorism module now includes judges from Bangladesh, the Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.

DIAZ: What do the training modules look like in practice?

JUDGE PORCELLI: As an example, for the cybercrime module, the NJA selected eight Indian judges to be trained on the substantive issues in adjudicating cybercrime cases and to be trained as teachers so they can lead courses for other Indian judges.

After an initial online substantive program led by a cadre of U.S. and international judges and experts, the eight selected participants met in California where they learned about the core issues involved in adjudicating cybercrime cases. They then developed an outline and selected individual topics which they would be responsible for becoming experts in and deliver presentations on as part of the overall curriculum. The judges also met with judicial scholars at the University of California–Berkeley, observed a variety of federal court proceedings, and interacted with judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

The next meeting was at the NJA in Bhopal, India, where the participants learned interactive teaching methodologies and began to formalize session outlines for their individual presentations. The group had a third meeting at the CEELI Institute at the Villa Grébovka in Prague, Czech Republic, the participants gave their presentations for the first time for faculty members and other observers and received feedback to adjust and improve their curriculum before piloting the workshop for a group of judges in India. Then, in Bhopal, India, they presented the entire cybercrime workshop over a period of two days to a group of Indian judges selected from throughout the country.

Each of the training modules follow a similar design but vary by content and by the locations for the training sessions.

DIAZ: Do any of these meetings stand out to you in particular?

JUDGE PORCELLI: I have to say that each of the meetings was special not only due to the unique learning experiences of each meeting, but also the unique cultural exchange fostered by the locations of each of the meetings.

However, if I had to pick one meeting, I would say the meeting in Prague because it is where we got to see the Indian judges’ presentations for the first time and where we had the special honor to visit with the Hon. D.Y. Chandrachud, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India. In his inspiring remarks to the participants, Chief Justice Chandrachud specifically noted the challenges posed by cybercrime to judiciaries and societies all over the world and emphasized the qualities of a good instructor and the importance of sharing stories with the audience. He specifically pointed out that, according to an old Indian adage, “in teaching, we learn” and become better instructors and better persons.

DIAZ: It is quite impressive to have the commitment of so many involved with such an extensive project. Did you encounter any challenges while running the programs? And if so, how did you overcome them?

JUDGE HAWLEY: Doing a project like this certainly comes with unexpected events, but any issues we had were often minor and very good lessons to learn from for future programs. The expected challenge was bridging the gap between the legal systems and frameworks of our two countries. Additionally, understanding the cultural and contextual nuances of India’s legal landscape was crucial.

The Indian legal system is rooted in centuries of tradition and operates differently from the American system, which is based on common law principles. I found that the Indian judges were some of the most well-studied judges I have ever encountered. The judges would discuss United States Supreme Court cases and often knew the case law as well as I did. They were also well-versed in the laws of numerous other countries. Their breadth of legal knowledge was just a byproduct of their passion for the law and for their jobs.

The most common challenge we confronted was the language barrier. While English is an official language in India, legal terminology can differ significantly between the two countries. But this was easily overcome by presenting things both orally and in writing and reinforcing learning objectives when needed.

Essentially, overcoming any challenges required a collaborative and adaptive approach. We engaged in in-depth discussions to clarify legal concepts and terminology and provided practical case studies to illustrate key points. Cultural sensitivity and an open dialogue were essential to addressing the contextual differences. We also maintained a strong emphasis on continuous learning and encouraged judges to stay updated on the latest developments. Ultimately, our primary objective was to keep the Indian judges focused on developing a deep understanding of both the substantive legal principles and the teaching methodologies.

The Indian legal system is rooted in centuries of tradition and operates differently from the American system, which is based on common law principles. I found that the Indian judges were some of the most well-studied judges I have ever encountered.

DIAZ: What are some of the takeaways for each of you from this experience?

JUDGE PORCELLI: Working with the Indian judges was a two-way exchange of knowledge. Without question, I learned as much from them — if not more — than they did from me. They had very diverse backgrounds and came from all across India, and each offered unique perspectives on legal issues confronting their country. They shared their judicial experiences, and I was humbled to learn the complexities they face daily that I never encounter. The country’s population presents a clear distinction and many challenges. For example, I learned that approximately 44 million cases are pending in Indian courts and nearly 3.3 million cases have been pending for more than a decade. With this mounting backlog, the Indian judges work tirelessly to manage their caseloads. In fact, all of our training sessions in India had to be conducted on weekends to ensure that no training would interfere with the judges’ ability to conduct hearings during the work week.

I had the unique opportunity to observe one of the judges presiding over court, and during a two-hour period she heard arguments for over 30 criminal and civil matters. I later learned that at the end of the day, during which she presided over just more than 100 matters, she had to author a significant emergency opinion deciding an issue related to a medical termination of a pregnancy of a minor. Unfortunately, it was clear to me that such a workday was not aberrant but rather just an example of a normal day, during which the Indian judges are routinely required to make prompt decisions on an overwhelming volume of cases with varying levels of complexity.

Working with the Indian judges was a two-way exchange of knowledge. Without question, I learned as much from them — if not more — than they did from me.

In addition, Indian judges are often confronted with significant political and societal pressures. These pressures unfortunately manifest as alleged corruption within law enforcement or in the public’s distrust in the judicial system. It was obvious to me that such stigma weighed heavily on them. Each of them valued impartiality, integrity, and justice and wanted to make positive changes to overcome such issues. As with my American judicial colleagues, each of the Indian judges had an unquestionable love of their country and deep-rooted passion to make a positive impact upon their community by the promotion of the rule of law.

It was truly inspiring to see the zeal and care that each of the Indian judges had for their jobs despite the daunting challenges they face. Candidly, given the volume of cases, I was greatly impressed by how eager the judges were to devote the necessary time to finely develop their respective programs. Ultimately, an obvious result of this project was the clear affirmation of our shared appreciation for the rule of law. This experience has had a profound impact on me both personally and professionally — I am certain it has made me a better judge and person, as I have learned so much and have developed professional relationships and friendships that will endure beyond my time in the project.

It was truly inspiring to see the zeal and care that each of the Indian judges had for their jobs despite the daunting challenges they face. Candidly, given the volume of cases, I was greatly impressed by how eager the judges were to devote the necessary time to finely develop their respective programs.

JUDGE HAWLEY: I share the same takeaways that Judge Porcelli already discussed, but will share a few additional observations. The adoption of the Indian Constitution is relatively recent in the context of the country’s ancient roots. I was struck by how new the government in India is relative to the United States and, likewise, its judiciary. The judges with whom we worked are in a position to shape the judiciary for generations to come in the same way the judges did in the United States when our Republic was young and new. This made it a real privilege to work with those judges.

I was also struck by the work ethic of the Indian judges. The caseloads they carry are almost unimaginable to a judge from the United States. They work six full days a week in an attempt to manage that caseload. And, because they do not have a jury system and most cases are resolved through trials rather than pleas, they must write a judgment explaining their reasoning in every single one of the thousands of cases they have before them.

This difference between our jury system and the Indian system was really driven home to me when one of the Indian judges asked me how the jury explains the reasoning for its verdict. When I said our juries don’t explain the verdict, the Indian judge was shocked, and questioned me extensively on how such a system where the parties aren’t told the reasoning behind a decision could comport with due process. That question sparked a very interesting discussion about what constitutes fairness and due process. It’s just one example of how discussing our varied legal systems with peers from other countries can be thought-provoking, informative, and interesting.

DIAZ: Thank you both for sharing your valuable insights and experiences. Your commitment to the project is truly commendable and I am so pleased to know that it continues in such robust fashion.

JUDGE PORCELLI: Thank you. I know you had a big role in the development of the original initiative and it’s been a pleasure to discuss it with you. I must say that my participation in this project has been, without a doubt, one of the highlights of my career. I hope to see continued collaboration on this project so that others may get to experience the inspiring and valuable lessons learned from similar international judicial exchanges.

JUDGE HAWLEY: Yes, thank you. It has truly been a privilege to be part of this program. I have learned a lot, made a lot of good friends, and hopefully taught a thing or two as well!