A Lawyers' and Accountants' Lend-Lease to East Europe

Article excerpt

CZECHOSLOVAKIA, faced with the tough decision of whether to prosecute members of the former regime, is struggling to revamp a justice system that has long been short on justice.

Poland is fighting economic disaster. Its new government wants to craft commercial codes to encourage investment, both national and foreign.

And Yugoslavia is working to enhance its credibility by modernizing an archaic criminal code.

All three countries share twin goals essential to their efforts to establish democracy: justice and economic prosperity. A modern legal system is required for both.

Eastern Europe's quest for justice and economic growth - undermined by decades of communist rule - is alive. We must act now to lend a hand.

One vital, practical step is to modernize these nations' legal system so as to establish a rule of law. Governments in the region properly view an independent judiciary, constitutional reforms, criminal-law revisions, environmental standards, and the guarantee of basic human rights as fundamental democratic building blocks. If justice is to be dispensed and investment encouraged, everyone must know the rules.

The United States, a nation of law and a land of lawyers, can play a positive role.

I propose a joint US-Eastern European partnership to tackle the painstaking, perhaps mundane, job of codifying the region's legal system. This partnership would be founded on enlightened, mutual self-interest.

The goal would be to enhance the credibility of Eastern Europe's legal system and act as an organizational link between the emerging Eastern European legal community and criminal lawyers and entrepreneurs and investors of the world - networking at its best.

Establishment of such a partnership might seem like a lengthy, complicated chore. But there is an existing, successful model to use in creating a similar US-Eastern European partnership.

The three-year-old Caribbean Law Institute is working to codify civil regulations in the English-speaking islands of the Caribbean. It is a joint project of the University of the West Indies in Barbados and Florida State University.

A leading attorney from Barbados directs this project, which is funded by the US Agency for International Development. Lawyers, judges, and officials in the Caribbean receive technical help in harmonizing existing laws and drafting new ones.

Through this partnership, lawyers and accountants from the Caribbean and the US have been working to improve laws on shipping, arbitration, incorporation, and trade. …