Categorized | Business

States Advised: “Adopt National Code Of Judicial Conduct”

By: K Quincy Parker

The president of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) has urged that the judiciary of each country adopt and publish its own code of judicial conduct and have it published, which will hold judges to appropriate standards of judicial conduct and inform the public of the standards of conduct that they are entitled to expect from their judges.

Speaking to a group of judges on retreat in Barbados, Sir Dennis Byron noted the generally accepted international principle that national judiciaries should assume an active role in strengthening judicial integrity by affecting such systematic reforms as are within the judiciary’s competence and capacity, and also that a universally acceptable statement of judicial standards should be adopted at the national level by the judiciary without the intervention of the executive or legislative branches of government.

He said the current statement is embodied in the Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct, but that at the national level it is not sufficient to simply adopt the Bangalore principles.

The Bangalore Principles were adopted by the Judicial Group on Strengthening Judicial Integrity as revised at the Round Table Meeting of Chief Justices held at the Peace Palace, The Hague, in 2002. They are intended to establish standards for ethical conduct of judges, and designed to provide guidance to judges and to afford the judiciary a framework or regulating judicial conduct.

Said Sir Dennis: “The judiciary needs to go through an exercise of detailed review and introspection and prepare their own code in accordance with the established standards. After its adoption it is essential that the judiciary spend time to ensure that the public knows of and understands the implications of the code of conduct.”

He pointed out that the judiciary of Suriname, in conjunction with the CCJ, had already embarked on such an exercise.
Sir Dennis said it was unrealistic to expect that that judges could discern meaning uninfluenced by personal or political experience: still, he said, it is these cases that make the fair and independent judge indispensible to the ultimate triumph of the rule of law.

“In small communities the standard of judicial behaviour and accountability ought to be much higher than in large societies where the judges are largely anonymous,” Sir Dennis said. “In a small community the judge is always under public scrutiny. He or she is always recognised as the judge.”

“Therefore the standards of behaviour on and off the bench have to be continuously high. The judge has to be like Caesar’s wife, that is to say, above suspicion.”
Judicial Independence

“There are those in the Caribbean who feel that our judges lack autonomy, backbone, integrity and morality,” he said. “They suspect that the judiciary can be influenced and corrupted by politicians.”

The jurist cited a letter from a Caribbean friend who professed to have become disillusioned with the courts in her country and accused judges of an unwillingness to “stand up to big business, and stop bantering to politicians.”

“This judgment may be harsh and inaccurate,” Sir Dennis said, “but if it represents the perception of a significant portion of the public, we must deal with it.”

Sir Dennis said that judges are judged by their temperament. Noting that judges deliver a public service – and that confidence in anything is not automatic, but must be earned or learnt – he said the judiciary has to continuously provide information to the public about its performance.

“It must be our concern to make The Court the most trusted and legitimate institution in our affairs,” he said.

He also spoke to the judicial gathering about judicial independence, which is vital in an independent state, but which he said must have its limits.

He said it was important that just as judges are not dependent on any individual or group that might impair their capacity to apply the law fairly and without favoritism, neither ought judges to exercise power arbitrarily.

“Judicial independence must be tempered with judicial accountability,” said Sir Dennis. “This idea must not be misused in the service of those who would obliterate judicial independence and the rule of law by intimidating judges to reach results that are popular with the public.”

The senior jurist gave what he thought was an appropriate definition of judicial accountability. Judges, he said, should: uphold the rule of law; be accountable to an appellate process that corrects judicial error; be independent, or if independence is compromised by taking bribes be held accountable to criminal and impeachment processes; be impartial, and be held accountable to a recusal process where there is any perception of bias, and maintain the appropriate temperament and competence or be accountable to a disciplinary process.

Written by Jones Bahamas

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