I left a comfortable life as a City lawyer in August 2001 not knowing quite what to expect on my arrival in Sarajevo.

What I discovered was a city emerging from one of the most devastating wars in the history of modern siege warfare, and the most challenging and rewarding experience of my life.

More than 200,000 people died in the war that began in 1992 after Bosnia declared its independence from Yugoslavia.

Thousands are still officially 'missing'.

Approximately two million others were forced from their homes.

Many have returned but hundreds of thousands remain displaced in Bosnia and throughout Europe.

The peace agreement signed in Dayton, Ohio in 1995 created two semi-autonomous regions within one state entity - the predominantly Serb Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The high representative (currently former Liberal Democrat leader, Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon) is the de facto administrator of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Today, approximately 12,000 NATO troops and 500 international police officers help maintain a fragile peace.

Unemployment exceeds 50%, which fuels fears of a resurgence of nationalism.

The constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina prescribes a democratic state that operates under the rule of law.

But there is still a long way to go before the rule of law properly evolves in the region.

Reaching that goal will require a significant effort - at both domestic and international levels - and the use of a variety of tools, including new legislation (especially on procedure), new structures, training and the development of new attitudes among those working within the judiciary.

The introduction of legislation - or more usually its imposition by the high representative - is, relatively speaking, the easy part of this process.

Changing attitudes of judges and prosecutors will take decades, as will improving the public perception of - and confidence in - the judiciary.

Many of the sitting judges and prosecutors in Bosnia and Herzegovina were appointed during or shortly after the war, when the selection process depended more on political patronage than the qualities of individual candidates.

The remaining judges and prosecutors were, in many cases, the product of an antiquated socialist system.

Under-funding of the judiciary created a relationship of dependency on the executive.

When I arrived in Bosnia, the judiciary appeared to have little understanding of the concept of public service.

Many judges were corrupt, holding office at the fiat of their political guardians, while others were simply incompetent, in the sense that they lacked the necessary skills or training.

Many of the complaints about judges and prosecutors concerned delay and inefficiency in the judicial system.

Outdated procedural laws did not help the courts deal with cases efficiently.

Cases would take years to resolve and were often overturned on appeal and returned to the first-instance court for retrial.

When eventually this game of legal ping-pong came to an end, successful parties were frequently unable to enforce their judgments.

The system itself was more focused on producing statistics than ensuring the resolution of disputes.

In order that the judiciary might achieve independence from the executive, it was necessary to have an appointment and dismissal system for judges and prosecutors that focused on professional qualifications and experience rather than political influence, adequate financing rather than dependence on the relationship of individual courts or judges with politicians, and the provision of proper job security for judges.

However, the most important aspect of the entire process has been the effort to inculcate within the judiciary those qualities that we take for granted in our own legal system: integrity and professional conduct.

Some progress was made with the introduction of laws on judicial and prosecutorial service in 2000.

Those laws provided for the creation of commissions in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and councils in Republika Srpska, charged with significant tasks in respect of the appointment, discipline and removal of judges and prosecutors.

Both were domestic institutions comprised of local judges, prosecutors and attorneys.

The only international element involved in this process was the monitoring of those commissions and councils by the Independent Judicial Commission.

One of the tasks undertaken by the commissions and councils was a comprehensive review.

This process was designed to determine whether sitting judges and prosecutors were unsuitable to hold office.

It became obvious to me after a short time that this process was becoming a farce.

There was resistance to the efforts of the international community to assist the domestic bodies in cleaning up the judiciary, and there was also an obvious desire on the part of some members of the commissions and councils to protect certain individual judges and prosecutors.

This point is, perhaps, most graphically made by the fact that those judges summarily suspended by the (former) high representative in May 2002, had successfully passed through this domestic vetting process.

Shortly after my arrival, I advocated the suspension and dismissal of the domestic commissions and councils, and their replacement by an institution comprising mainly international representatives.

It would be fair to say that mine was not a lone voice, but there was much resistance from those within the international community who advocated 'ownership' of the reform process on the part of the domestic authorities.

However, if real and significant process were to be made, drastic action was required.

Relief came in 2002 with the establishment of the high judicial and prosecutorial councils, and the imposition of a reselection process for judges and prosecutors.

There exist three councils: one for Republika Srpska, one for the Federation of Bosnia and Herzeg-ovina, and the third at state level.

The councils comprise national and international judges and prosecutors.

Along with my international colleagues, I am a member of all three councils.

The principal task of the high judicial and prosecutorial councils is the selection of an independent, impartial judiciary that reflects the composition of Bosnia as represent-ed in the pre-war, 1991 census.

It is an open competition for lawyers and all sitting judges are subject to this process - something that was opposed by the European Union, which advocated that only sitting judges and prosecutors should be eligible to apply.

The high judicial and prosecutorial councils have a broad range of competence over the affairs of judges and prosecutors, including: the direct appointment of judges and prosecutors to office (except to the constitutional courts); the authority to recommend candidates for appointment to constitutional courts (those appointments are made by the state government); the discipline, including direct removal, of judges and prosecutors; and the authority to propose court budgets to legislative authorities.

In addition, the councils have an important role in judicial training, resolving potential and actual conflicts of interest of judges and prosecutors, and giving advice on the interpretation of laws and other instruments affecting the judiciary.

On 1 April 2004, the three high judicial and prosecutorial councils will cease.

They will be replaced by a single council comprising only national members.

There can be no doubt significant progress has been made, and Bosnia and Herzegovina is well on its way to attaining the protection provided by the rule of law that, with all its flaws, we take for granted in our system.

However, one should not be complacent about this process which, in my view, is still in its infancy.

While much has been achieved, a good deal remains to be done.

I hope that history will be sympathetic to the efforts that were made on behalf of the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Dr Malcolm Simmons is the British government appointee on the high judicial and prosecutorial councils for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

He is one of eight international judges and lawyers responsible for the reform of the judiciary and prosecutors' offices in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In addition, he is an appeal judge on a second-instance disciplinary panel of the councils.

He was formerly a partner specialising in litigation at London firm Vizards Staples & Bannister (now Vizards Wyeth)