Law and policy reform are vital ingredients to good governance and necessary components of economic development in Asia and the Pacific, explains ADB Deputy General Counsel Marie-Anne Birken.

How significant is the law, justice and development mandate to ADB and its member countries?

A key dimension of ADB's governance strategy is that law and order is necessary for economic development to take place. To have rule of law creates certainty for people and it is good governance which supports inclusive growth. The focus of ADB's Law, Justice and Development (LJD) program is on legal development, the judiciary and law enforcement. It's really an essential part of our governance policy.

What focus areas fall under this mandate?

Focus areas under our LJD program include gender equity, environment, clean energy, private and financial sectors development. Our work in private sector development encompasses land law issues and laws and regulations support, as well as public-private-partnerships. Anti-money laundering and terrorist financing laws and enforcement systems constitute the bulk of our involvement in financial sector development.

What challenges does this work entail?

One of the challenges is how to add value. We need to have a good understanding of how a country's legal system works to make sure that what we're proposing fits into the framework of the country. We try to learn from countries that are very successful in some areas and then help those countries that have low capacity.

One good example is the Asian Judges Network on the Environment, which was launched in 2010 during the first Asian Symposium on Environmental Decision Making, the Rule of Law and Environmental Justice.

Tell us more about the Asian Judges Network on the Environment.

Over 110 judges, environment ministry officials and civil society representatives from all over Asia, Australia, Brazil and from the United States, came to the Symposium to talk about how the rule of law and the judiciary impact on the environment. Different countries have different capabilities in dealing with environmental cases, and this forum was an amazing opportunity to share ideas.

Some countries, for example the Philippines, have advanced procedural rules that enable the judiciary to take the environment into account when ruling on issues. Other countries don't have these rules and procedures.

From that conference we created two sub-regional networks: one for ASEAN and one for South Asian countries.

How do these sub-regional events help countries that don't have the proper legal systems in place?

We support these sub-regional events, we help with the program, and we provide resource speakers and financial support. But we also expect countries to lead them.

We have also been supporting countries with some of their capacity issues. For example, we worked with Indonesia on a certification program for judges who needed training in environmental law. Some countries have established environmental courts that deal only with environmental cases, but Indonesia could not do that and therefore established this certification program.

There are constitutional and legal challenges that require different ways to address similar issues in different countries. These two sub-regional networks help countries address these types of issues, developing national support to target particular issues. Senior members of the judiciary inspire each other and that is much more effective than ADB telling them what they need.

What other countries have benefited from this initiative?

"We get the opportunity to help countries develop their legal systems. This makes the job of a lawyer in ADB more interesting than most."

In the past, we have done a lot of law, justice and development work in Pakistan where we had a big project on access to justice. In China, we have been involved in many programs and we just launched a report on our legal development workshop during the past ten years, Technical Assistance for Legal Development in the PRC: A Review.

We are also doing some energy regulation work that covers the Pacific countries - i.e. Asia-Pacific Dialogue on Clean Energy.

"In addition, we helped Indonesia with their compulsory land acquisition laws, which become necessary when the government buys land for the purpose of infrastructure."

What aspects of the legal work you do distinguishes ADB from other organizations?

Like other in-house legal functions, we support the bank's operations and administration. But what differentiates us from legal departments in commercial banks and other private sector institutions is that we get the opportunity to help countries develop their legal systems. This makes the job of a lawyer in ADB more interesting.