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The Supreme Court Project Archives

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Supreme Court of Peru, Palacio de Justicia, Lima, Peru
Address: Miguel Aljovin, Lima, Peru, by Estacion Central subway (Map)

Unlike our Ecuadorian adventure, our visit to the Supreme Court of Peru didn't feature any impromptu meetings with publicity officers. Our cab driver didn't know the way to the Supreme Court--and wondered why two foreigners wanted to go there--but he did know the Sheraton Lima, which faces right across the park from the fantastic Palacio de Justicia, and we could guide him from there.

Thus, we emerged into a sunny afternoon in front of a grand neoclassical structure that takes up most of a city block and houses the upper levels of the Peruvian judiciary. According to Wikipedia, the Peruvians modeled the building off of the law courts of Brussels, and the building does have a very heavy, European feel. Foolishly, I tried to walk up the steps to the front entrance, only to be rebuffed by a uniformed clerk who insisted that if we wanted to enter, we needed to go in the side door.

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The Palacio de Justicia, at night

There are no signs advising where to go as a "visitor," although there is a public entrance on the north side of the building. Unlike the grand facade, these doors are more pedestrian steel affairs, and a small crowd of litigants, attorneys and document carriers milled around waiting for admission to begin at two o'clock. We were in no hurry, and so wandered in a complete circuit around the building. To the northwest, a dirty park sat forlornly across the street from a few cantinas. Surrounding the Palacio on the west and south are the offices of government and private attorneys, both of whom were privileged to use entrances limited only to officialdom. The private offices to the south are a particularly interesting mix. Some bore clean, polished bronze plaques announcing the name of the lawyers within, while the windows of other offices were festooned with dot-matrix banners annoucing "ABOGADO" in faded grey letters.

The public doors still hadn't opened when we made it back to the public entrance, so we made our way northeast up Azangaro street. Here the shops are most definitely lawyer-focused: I have not seen so many places to buy highlighters, binders, binder clips, printing services or other paper-based products in my life. Mixed amidst these are a number of cheap coffee and sandwich shops, where it would be hard to pay more than five dollars for lunch.

Feeling well fed on ham sandwiches, we returned to find that the public doors had opened in our absence. The crowd was now slightly larger, but also slowly making its way past security. A few attorneys (or perhaps employees of attorneys), sweating in the sun outside the door in navy blue wool suits, approached us to ask if we needed counsel. They were skeptical that the guards would let us in as tourists, but we actually didn't have much trouble. This may be because the guard asked if we were attorneys, we said "yes," and he let us by without inquiring further as to our business.

(Click here for background on the Supreme Court Project)

Ecuador provided us with one of our most pleasant and unexpected encounters at the Tribunal Constitutional. We hadn't had much time to plan a visit to the Ecuadorian courts, as the idea to visit various supreme courts popped into my head a few days before we were leaving for Peru. In what would become my standard operating procedure for this project, we looked up some online background information on Ecuador's court system, found the addresses of the courts, and--in the absence of any tourist information--dressed fairly nicely and headed out to see what reception we would get. In places like Ecuador, this worked out better than expected. In other countries, I ended up being menaced by men with guns or indirectly bothering an attorney general. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Ecuador set my parameters for this project, both in where I would go and what I'd try to achieve. Like many countries, Ecuador has separated the court that functions as the highest appellate body (the Corte Suprema or Corte Nacional) and the body charged with interpreting the Ecuadorian constitution (the Corte Constitucional del Ecuador para el Periodo de Transicion). In every country, I tried to visit both the constitutional court and the highest appellate court.

Yet merely finding the Ecuadorian courts, let alone trying to understand them, proved difficult. We didn't always have internet access, and when we did, the Ecuadorian court websites seemed to be frequently offline. Pallavi's Spanish is better than my "donde esta el bano?" level, but neither of us is up to doing legal research in the native tongue. I quickly figured out that there was little way to conduct in-depth research for the Supreme Court Project, especially once we entered Asia or Africa and I had even less grasp of the language. So while I hope that these entries will be entertaining, and I'll do my best to provide links to useful sources of information, the Supreme Court Project is more a short excursion into gonzo journalism than a legal project. In other words, This Is Not Legal Advice (and for goodness sake, don't cite to it).

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The Corte Nacional de Justicia, Quito, Ecuador

With that in mind, here's my tale of the high courts of Ecuador.

The Supreme Court Project

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Travellers are by nature collectors: some collect those little silver spoons, others favor stamps, and some just keep a pocketful of the local currency. I am a law nerd, however, and so when Pallavi and I set out on our international trip I decided to collect pictures of our host nations' highest courts.

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Entrance to the Palacio de Justicia, Buenos Aires, Argentina

It's been fun, and we've learned quite a bit. Over the next few months, I intend to write a series of posts about our experiences visiting international high courts. We've had a pretty good run so far, making our way to about a dozen courts in eight countries. But Supreme Court tourism is a bit of a hit or miss proposition. In Argentina, for example, the Palacio de Justicia is an architectural wonder, with the government providing guided tours in Spanish. In other countries, there were no organized tours, but various administrative officials, guards or other staff went out of their way to show one or both of us around once they realized a tourist had dropped by to look about. Yet other courts appeared to be closed to public viewing, or at least that's what I was informed by polite but somewhat skeptical guards.

We had to miss out a few countries altogether: Canada, because the project hadn't occurred to me until after Ottawa; New Zealand, because we only visited the south island; and Australia, because every Aussie whom we talked to expressed profound bewilderment as to why anyone, given a choice of the many things to see on his great continent, would want to visit Canberra. [1]

A post for each country is on its way. Until I get around to finishing them, however, here is a quick photo album with the courts we've visited so far.

Supreme and Constitutional Courts

[1] Also, we ran out of time. Frankly, I kind of wish we had made it, because apparently there are kangaroos hopping across the lawns of government buildings in the capital. Kangaroos would greatly improve the White House and the Mall.

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