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Judiciary

What is the Judiciary ?

The Judiciary in England and Wales is made up of judges, magistrates, tribunal members, and coroners. Together, they uphold the rule of law.

The three key values which are central to the role of judicial office holders (JOHs) in England and Wales are:

Independence / Impartiality / Integrity

The core principles

JOHs are required to adhere to these core principles both inside and outside the courtroom. These form part of the Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct, which were endorsed at the 59th session of the United Nations Human Rights Commission at Geneva in April 2003. The principles state:

  1. Judicial independence is a prerequisite to the rule of law and a fundamental guarantee of a fair trial. A judge shall therefore uphold and exemplify judicial independence in both its individual and institutional aspects.
  2. Impartiality is essential to the proper discharge of the judicial office. It applies not only to the decision itself but also to the process by which the decision is made.
  3. Integrity is essential to the proper discharge of the judicial office.
  4. Propriety, and the appearance of propriety, are essential to the performance of all of the activities of the judge.
  5. Ensuring equality of treatment to all before the courts is essential to the due performance of the judicial office.
  6. Competence and diligence are prerequisites to the due performance of judicial office.

Independence

The judiciary should be fair and transparent, free of any influence outside the rule of law.

In a democracy, it is of vital importance that the public and those who appear before judges trust that their cases will be decided in accordance with the law. This can only be achieved if judges and the judiciary as a whole are independent of external pressures and of each other. For judges to discharge their constitutional responsibility of providing fair and impartial justice, it is solely relevant facts and law that should form the basis of their decisions.

When carrying out their judicial function judges must be free of any improper influence, such as pressure by individual litigants, commercial interests, the media, politicians, and their own self-interest. They must not allow potential public or media responses to skew their decision-making. This does not, however, mean displaying no awareness of the profound consequences that judicial decisions inflict on the lives of people before them, and often upon issues of great interest to society at large.

In the last century, the responsibilities of judges in disputes between the citizen and the state have increased together with the growth in governmental functions. The responsibility of the judiciary to protect citizens against unlawful acts of government has increased, and with it the need for the judiciary to be independent of government.

A practical example of the importance of judicial independence is where a high-profile matter, generating a great deal of media interest, comes before the court. This may be the criminal trial of a person accused of a shocking murder, the divorce of celebrities or challenges to the legality of government policy, such as the availability of a new and expensive drug to NHS patients. In the 24-hour media age in which we live, it stands to reason that the judge hearing the case will often be under intense scrutiny, with decisions open to intense debate. It is right that this is so, but it is equally important that decisions in court are made in accordance with the law and are not determined by external pressures.

Impartiality

The judiciary should treat all members of the public equally and fairly, no matter who they are.

Judges strive to ensure that their conduct, both in and out of court, maintains and enhances the confidence of the public, the legal profession and litigants, in their personal impartiality and that of the judiciary.

It follows that judges should, so far as is reasonable, avoid extra-judicial activities that could result in reasonable apprehension of bias or would result in a conflict of interest. This may involve refraining from sitting in a case where they have a close family relationship with a litigant or avoiding involvement with a political party, in such a way as to give the appearance of political bias. They should also avoid taking part in public demonstrations which might diminish their authority as a judge or create a perception of bias in subsequent cases.

It is, however, important for members of the court to deliver lectures and speeches, partake in conferences and seminars and contribute to debate on matters of public interest in the law, the administration of justice, and the judiciary. In making such contributions, judges will take special care to avoid associating themselves with a particular organisation, group or cause in such a way as to give rise to a perception of partiality towards that organisation, group or cause in the conduct of their judicial duties.

Integrity

Judges’ conduct must be bound by principles of honesty and respect, and may require putting the obligations of judicial office above their own personal interests.

Judges are expected to display:

  • Intellectual honesty
  • Respect for the law and observance of the law
  • Prudent management of financial affairs
  • Diligence and care in the discharge of judicial duties
  • Discretion in personal relationships, social contacts and activities

Generally, judges are entitled to exercise the rights and freedoms available to all citizens. Appointment to judicial office brings with it limitations on the private and public conduct of a judge, but that is not to say judges must refrain entirely from community affairs, as there is great public interest in their engagement. It is also necessary to strike a balance between the requirements of judicial office and the legitimate demands of the judge’s personal and family life.

However, they must accept that the nature of their office exposes them to considerable scrutiny and puts constraints on their behaviour which other people may not experience. They should avoid situations which might reasonably lower respect for their judicial office or might cast doubt upon their impartiality as judges. They must also avoid situations which might expose them to charges of hypocrisy by reason of things done in their private life.

The judge should seek to be courteous, patient, tolerant and punctual and should respect the dignity of all. They must ensure that no one in court is exposed to any display of bias or prejudice on grounds said in the Bangalore principle entitled “equality” to include but not to be limited to “race, colour, sex, religion, national origin, caste, disability, age, marital status, sexual orientation, social and economic status and other like causes”.

Guidance for JOHs

The Equal Treatment Bench Book is an extensive document which functions as a key work of reference for the judiciary on the matter of equal treatment for all, covering in detail topics such as ethnicity, religion, disability, sexuality, gender, and more. It is continuously updated to reflect changing social circumstances and to include areas of newer, growing research. More recent additions include sections on modern slavery and multicultural communication. JOHs refer to the text for assistance on how best they can tailor conduct and communication styles to create a professional and inclusive courtroom environment. In July 2022 an interim revision of the book was issued, which you can access by clicking here: Equal Treatment Bench Book – Courts and Tribunals Judiciary.

The Guide to Judicial Conduct explains these principles to judges, and provides practical guidance on a wide range of everyday situations.

Training is provided to new judges in independence, integrity and impartiality, and the principles are often addressed in programmes for continuing training.

The Judicial Conduct Investigations Office (JCIO) is an independent office which supports the Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice in considering complaints about the personal conduct of judicial office holders

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By Dom Watts

Dom Watts is the founder of the Ministry of Injustice. Dom has no legal training and is not a lawyer. You can find Dom on X or Google.

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