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Ethics in Judiciary

  • Category
    Ethics
  • Published
    19th Jul, 2021

A nonpartisan watchdog group ‘Project on Government Oversight’ (POGO) is calling for a code of ethics for US Supreme Court justices amid concerns about conflicts of interest.

Context

A nonpartisan watchdog group ‘Project on Government Oversight’ (POGO) is calling for a code of ethics for US Supreme Court justices amid concerns about conflicts of interest.

Background

  • Supreme Court justices have no official code of conduct with clear ethical obligations, unlike other judges in America
  • The Supreme Court is one of the most powerful and least accountable body in government in the name of independence.
  • This report brings to our notice the role of ethics in judiciary.

Analysis

Ethical issues in Judiciary

  • Public Speech
    • Judges must be cautious of their role and responsibilities while engaging in public speech.
    • Judges must constantly be aware of their role and position in society and cannot be frivolous in the use of their words.
  • Public Trust
    • A judge must respect and honour his judicial office. It is an institution of public trust and he must endeavour to leave such office with higher respect and public confidence than when he inherited it.
    • Judges are after all temporary occupants of an office that existed before us and will continue to exist after our exit.
  • Family Conduct
    • Judges are bestowed with the responsibility of judging the conduct of fellow citizens. Therefore, it is only natural that they be expected to make truthful decisions in their own lives. If they succumb to making the wrong choices, they lose the moral authority to judge the lives of others.
  • Recusal
    • A judge may often encounter situations where a conflict of interest arises or where there is an apparent conflict of interest which may require him to recuse himself from the matter. Bias is one of the factors that may require recusal.
    • While considering the question of bias a judge may have to evaluate not only whether he would indeed be influenced in his decision but also whether he may be perceived as being biased which may weaken public trust ultimately.
  • Compassion and Conscience
    • A judge’s metamorphosis from a student of law, to a practitioner and later as a judge often desensitizes us to the gravity and the impact of our work on litigants and the general public.
    • Thus, while upholding the rule of law if a judge can award a patient hearing to both the parties and be compassionate in his application of law, it often alleviates their suffering and certainly enhances their respect for the judiciary.
  • Avoiding Bias
    • The strength of our judiciary also depends on their ability to treat citizens of various religious, social and economic backgrounds without bias or prejudice. A judge like any other individual must guard against succumbing to biases.

Six principles to establish ethical conduct of judges

  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.

Restatement of Values of Judicial Life

In 1997 a 16 point code of conduct, for ensuring proper conduct among members of the higher judiciary was adopted by the Judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts with the Gujarat High Court as the sole dissenter

  1. Justice must not merely be done but it must also be seen as done. The behaviour and conduct of members of the higher judiciary must reaffirm the people’s faith in the impartiality of the judiciary. Accordingly, any act of a Judge of the Supreme Court or a High Court, weather in official or personal capacity, which erodes the credibility of the perception has to be avoided.
  2. A Judge should not contest the election of any office of a Club, society or other association; further he shall not hold such elective office except in a society or association connected with the law.
  3. Close association with individual members of the Bar, particularly those who practice in the same court shall be eschewed
  4. A Judge shall not permit any member of his immediate family to, such as spouse, son, or daughter, son-in-law, or daughter-in-law, or any other close relative, if as member of the Bar, to appear before him or even be associated in any manner with a case to be dealt with by him.
  5. No member of his family, who is a member of the Bar, shall be permitted to use the residence in which the judge actually resides or other facilities for professional work.
  6. A Judge should practise a degree of aloofness consistent with the dignity of his office.
  7. A Judge shall not hear and decide a matter in which a member of his family, a close relation or a friend is concerned.
  8. A Judge shall not enter into a public debate or express his views in public on political matters or on matters that are pending or are likely to arise for judicial determination.
  9. A Judge is expected to let his judgement speak for themselves. He shall not give interview to the media.
  10. A Judge shall not accept gifts or hospitality except from his family, close relations and friends.
  11. A Judge shall not hear and decide a matter in which a company in which he holds shares is concerned unless he has disclosed his interest and no objection to his hearing and deciding the matter is raised.
  12. A Judge shall not speculate in shares, stocks or the like.
  13. A Judge should not engage directly or indirectly in trade or business, either by himself or in association with any other person. (publication of a legal treaties or any activity in the mature of a hobby shall not be constructed as trade business).
  14. A Judge should not ask for accept contribute or otherwise actively associate himself with the raising of any fund for any purpose.
  15. A Judge should not seek any financial benefit in the form of a perquisite or privilege attached to his office unless it is clearly available. Any doubt in this behalf must be got resolved and clarified through the Chief Justice.
  16. Every Judge must at all times be conscious that he is under the public gaze and there should be no act or omission by him which is unbecoming of the high office he occupies and the public esteem in which the office is held.

Conclusion

Despite enormous changes in the country the Supreme Court’s structure has not changed for nearly a half century. Addressing how judicial candidates are identified and selected, the structure of decision-making on the Court, the duration of service, and the conduct of the Court itself will help us resolve bottleneck issues and make Indian judiciary more ethical in justice delivery.

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