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Strategies to support judicial independence

An important starting point is the United Nations Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary. Adopted in 1985, the Principles envisage judges with full authority to act free from pressures and threats, adequately paid and equipped to carry out their duties. The standards offer models for lawmakers, who are encouraged to write them into their national constitutions and to enact them into law. Many countries have formally adopted the Principles and report regularly to the United Nations on their progress and problems, sometimes seeking help with legal education or the monitoring of procedures. Reform advocates can engage the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers to provide input and technical assistance to reform processes.

Key measures to enhance judicial independence include:

  • Reform laws that weaken judicial independence.
  • Provide the court system with adequate and sustainable funding, including a sufficient wage to prevent bribery. Salary levels for new adjudicators should meet living wage standards and should increase with seniority.

 

Example: as part of the Action Plan for Judicial Reform in the Philippines, judicial salaries were increased by 100% over a 4-year period. This helped the recruitment of well-qualified candidates and reduced the number of vacancies on the bench (Asian Development Bank, 2008).

 

  • Standardize the process and tenure of judicial appointment. According to the UN Basic Principles, persons selected for judicial office shall be individuals of integrity and ability with appropriate training or qualifications in law. Any method of judicial selection shall safeguard against judicial appointments for improper motives. In the selection of judges, there shall be no discrimination against a person on the grounds of race, colour, sex, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or status, except that a requirement that a candidate for judicial office must be a national of the country concerned, shall not be considered discriminatory.
  • Support the creation of judicial councils to appoint and promote judges.
  • Train judges on leadership techniques and access to justice issues so that they embrace the idea of being visible and active in community service. Most judicial ethics codes encourage judges to become active in their communities.
  • Promote standards in the promotion and transfer of judges. For example, the UN Basic Principles indicate that:
    • The term of office of judges, their independence, security, adequate remuneration, conditions of service, pensions, and the age of retirement shall be adequately secured by law.
    • Judges, whether appointed or elected, shall have guaranteed tenure until a mandatory retirement age or the expiry of their term of office, where such exists.
    • Promotion of judges, wherever such a system exists, should be based on objective factors, in particular ability, integrity, and experience.

The United Nations also has promulgated Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers and Guidelines on the Role of Prosecutors . Similar to standards on the independence of judges, these UN guidelines outline good practices to enhance the credibility of the legal profession and the court system