Bar News - May 19, 2006
NH Attorney Helping Mideast Nations Develop Legal Systems
By: Beverly D. Rorick
Phillip Walker (far right) enjoys a meal with friends in Yemen.
Baghdad. Amman, Jordan. Palestine. Yemen. Cairo. NH attorney Phillip J. Walker’s passport features an itinerary of the world’s hot spots. He has met with Iraqis in Baghdad to help them get ready for their elections, has worked with other justice professionals on the Iraqi constitution in Jordan, has consulted with Palestinians about their legal education system, has sat down to an unusual dinner while assisting with legal reform in Yemen (see picture)—and at present is involved in an exciting new venture, this time in Egypt. Based in Cairo, he is currently with the Family Justice Project under the auspices of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). “We are helping them establish a new family court system, and supporting the Egyptians as they implement mandatory mediation in all family law cases as an alternative, or at least a precursor, to litigation.”
Walker, who was in the diplomatic service for several years before obtaining his law degree and was admitted to the Bar in 1998, is presently working in the non-government sector in Egypt. “Our job is to protect and promote the legal rights of families and children,” he continued. “There is a strong movement in Egypt to use court supported family mediation to strengthen family bonds where possible and to simplify and expedite the resolution of issues in divorce and child custody where necessary.” So far the response from both the government and the Egyptian people has been positive and the changes well-received. “They are very grateful to the U.S. for putting up the money for this effort. Our innovations are welcomed enthusiastically,” Walker said.
Phillip Walker is no stranger to justice projects abroad. For example, just before going to Egypt, he was sent to Yemen by the British government to develop the concept for the UK and European support for a thorough reform of the Yemeni judicial system. “Yemen is a fascinating place, with a legal tradition like no other. It still applies customary law developed in the pre-Islamic period in tandem with classical Islamic law, within a formal French-style civil code structure,” Walker said.
Walker’s special area of expertise is the legal system of the Middle East. He speaks Arabic fluently and has lived or worked in numerous Arab countries over the course of a decade. Whenever he is on assignment, Walker tries to learn as many of the customs of that country as he can, discovering the unique aspects of its culture. He has lived in a variety of circumstances (some more primitive than others) and sampled many different kinds of food—and modes of dining. Most of all, though, he has been grateful for the opportunity to get to know the peoples of other nations and how they view the world.
Recently he was in the Palestinian Authority as a legal education consultant working under a USAID contract to assist with the reform of Palestinian legal education. He had also spent time in Palestine previously (about two years, 2000-02, mentioned in the Sept. 22, 2000 issue of Bar News) helping to reform the legal system in general. Before his last assignment in Palestine, he spent six months as an advisor to the Iraqis on the framing of their constitution. This project originated with the American Bar Association (ABA) and was funded by the U.S. State Department. Walker assisted in organizing several conferences on constitutional law, which were held at the Dead Sea in Jordan. One of his Dead Sea conferences was the first formal meeting of the leading Iraqi political movements to discuss the actual drafting of the permanent constitution.
“I was in Iraq the year before to advise them on setting up their elections,” he said “Initially I spent three weeks there—and then from December through April, I spent two weeks out of every month in Iraq—for five months straight.”
Walker was favorably impressed by the Iraqi leadership—but disheartened by the approach of U.S. officials, many of whom were incompetent. “There was chaos, largely due to lack of planning and foresight by political appointees. Action was put off—and by the time changes were instituted, it was too late for some things to be fixed,” said Walker.
Walker’s experience in the diplomatic service was also in the Middle East, from 1989-1995. He spent time in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, both during and after the first Gulf War. Walker had prepared well, earning a master’s degree in international relations from Oxford University; he also taught Comparative Law of the Middle East at Cornell, a course which he himself had taken at Harvard Law School.
When not on assignment, Walker and his family live in New Hampshire, although he spends quite a bit of time in Washington, DC—or abroad. “I have a wife (Maya) and four kids, ages 11 (Sophie), 9 (Isaac), 4 (Grace) and 4 (Allegra). They travel with me sometimes, but we keep the kids based in Dunbarton for continuity in their lives. When they do go with me, they are getting to see the world, so there are some compensations for the grueling travel and my frequent absences.
“The separations are hard,” he concludes, “but we manage—and when I’m gone we speak for an hour or so every night.”
Walker has authored several articles for the ABA; some of his writing appears in a recent book New Wars, New Laws, edited by David Wippman, which can be obtained through Amazon, Canada at www.amazon.ca.