In This Review

The Judiciary and Democratic Decay in Latin America: Declining Confidence in the Rule of Law
The Judiciary and Democratic Decay in Latin America: Declining Confidence in the Rule of Law
By William Prillaman
Praeger, 2000, 208 pp.

In this superb analysis of Latin America's judiciary, Prillaman disputes the conventional wisdom that successful reforms are incremental and best left in the hands of the courts. In fact, this approach has made progress in the region glacial and public opinion distrustful of the courts. Only Chile's courts can be considered a success in terms of independence and accountability, efficiency and access, and freedom from corruption -- and that is because it took the opposite approach from what international development agencies recommended. Chile moved simultaneously across a broad front, establishing objective criteria for training and dismissing judges and enhancing the individual independence of lower-court judges; it also tackled rising case loads by promoting innovative forms of dispute resolution and integrating poorer citizens into the legal system. As a result, over time Chile's judiciary gained public trust. But Prillaman fears that other countries could deteriorate into semidemocratic rule, with executives unchecked by counterbalancing institutions, societies unable to cope with rising crime, and the public increasingly willing to rely on mob justice rather than the courts. If this occurs, Latin America's future will look remarkably similar to its past.