If there is a public perception of corruption in the courts, victims may not report violence or may decline to participate in a case, which often leads to charges against the perpetrator being dropped. Opportunities exist to address corruption from the onset of legal training for law students, throughout legal careers, judicial and prosecutorial selection procedures, case assignment procedures, improved transparency and communication of decisions, and well-publicized, standardized court fees (including where there are no fees, as it should be in cases of violence against women). Strategies to address corruption in the court system include:
- Draft a code of ethics and professional responsibility and standards of conduct for legal and judicial actors in the justice system. This will provide a foundation for training, monitoring, and hearing complaints on ethical matters. Codes should include specific standards which apply to cases of violence against women and girls.
- Provide ethics training requirements in law schools and include a required section on ethics in bar examinations. A foundation in ethics will have a long-term positive effect upon corruption in the courts as lawyers become judges or prosecutors. Many law schools require that their students take an ethics course. For example, see this Interview with India’s Solicitor General and Chairman of the Bar Council of India regarding the addition of ethical requirements to India’s law school curriculum.
- Ethics courses should provide a set of principles for lawyers and judges which can be applied to real-life dilemmas. Training on professional responsibility and codes of conduct should be required for new judges and prosecutors. And, when bar exams contain an ethics component, future lawyers are required to study ethical principles.
- Support ongoing ethics training. Continuing education programmes should be required for judges, lawyers, and prosecutors to maintain their license. Court administrators should request and document the need for funding for ongoing training. A certain number of hours of continuing education on ethics should be part of the requirements for retention of professional licensure and judicial appointment.
- Support court-provided mentoring programmes for judges and prosecutors. The experience of mentors may be particularly helpful to recruit diverse judges or prosecutors, or to help new judges and prosecutors in complex cases of violence against women.
- Support a programme through which new judges are required to declare their assets and the assets of immediate family members upon taking office, their assets are periodically monitored during their tenure as judge, and are monitored again at departure. An independent body should monitor these disclosures, which should be confidential if no corruption is indicated. The declaration and monitoring of assets throughout judicial careers inhibits corruption. A similar system for regular review of personal assets and income should be established for prosecutors.
- Support public access to all court decisions. In many countries, not all court decisions are published, or they may be published in abbreviated form. However, if decisions are published, judges can be held accountable for the quality and consistency of their decisions. Each court system should publish its decisions on a website. This will provide valuable information to the legal profession, to other judges, and to the public on relevant cases of jurisprudence. Court systems should incorporate appropriate standards for survivor confidentiality and safety.
The Judicial Mentoring Project Handbook (Almeda County Bar Association and East Bay Diversity Bar Association, California, USA, 2010). Available in English.
Namibia – Laws and Court Decisions Available on the Internet
Ministry of Justice officials in Namibia identified a gap in access to court decisions and pertinent laws among judges. Ministry officials also realized that government personnel could not effectively enforce laws if they did not have access to the laws. In response, Ministry of Justice officials drafted a plan to make laws and court decisions readily available on the internet to judges, officials, lawmakers, and the public at large. The Namibian E-Laws project, launched in 2010, contains all of the country’s post-Independence laws, pre-Independence laws, court decisions, High and Supreme Court decisions, and international agreements. The project is an extension of already-existing internet services, including the Namibian Courts Information System and Justice Net.
Source: Namibia Economist. 2010. New website contains all Namibian laws.
- Ensure open courtrooms during most cases. Open courtrooms are an important indicator of a fair and transparent judicial process. In many countries, organizations such as WATCH in Minnesota, USA, monitor courtroom procedures to ensure that victims of violence receive fair and respectful treatment. In cases of violence against women, however, this must be balanced with the rights of a survivor of violence who may fear testimony in open court and the publicity which is often a result of violent cases. Closed courtrooms should be reserved for cases involving vulnerable complainants, survivors, or witnesses, including women or girls who are survivors of sexual violence. Other methods of protecting the survivor include testimony via closed circuit television and banning the presence of the media. Court hearings should in most cases be public though exceptions may be made in cases of violence against women and girls. For example, a rape case against a minor girl should be held in closed session in view of the age of the survivor. See the section on Sexual Assault in the Knowledge Module on Legislation.
- Support use of an automated case management system. Automated case management systems are an effective method of removing opportunities for corruption and at the same time increasing the efficiency of the court process. Automated systems speed up the process, even out the workload of judges and prosecutors, safeguard documents, remove the opportunity to influence the assignment of a particular judge or prosecutor to a case, and create opportunities to standardize access to information and court fees where they apply, thus reducing opportunities for bribery among court administrators. Information about the status of proceedings which are in progress can be readily available through these systems.
Serbia – Automated case management system
In 2004, the Government of Serbia installed an automated case management system in its commercial court system to promote greater transparency and efficiency. Under the automated system, judges were assigned to cases randomly, litigants could follow the progress of their case online, and they were charged standard fees. These measures not only addressed transparency and fairness, they increased efficiency in the commercial courts. In 2006 alone, there was a 24% reduction in the backlog of pending cases.
Source: Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor and United Nations Development Program, 2008
- Recognize that widely variable sentences for the same offense are an important source of public perceptions of corruption. Most countries have sentencing guides in legislative protocol and court systems should work to ensure that sentences are in compliance. Regular monitoring of court decisions will facilitate this.
- Support an independent body and standardized procedure for complaints. An independent and responsive complaint commission should exist for all complaints against the judiciary and other court staff. The membership of this commission should include judges, attorneys, and citizens, and its mandate of investigating charges of judicial corruption and judicial misconduct should be well-publicized. The commission should be charged with referring cases of criminal misconduct to the police. Sanctions should include the disbarment of convicted offenders. Notice of this body and its mandate should be sent to all parties to a case.
Indonesia – Human Rights Ombudsman
Responding to years of popular frustration with corruption and inefficiency in public services and the judicial system, Indonesia partnered with the United Nations Development Programme to create the National Ombudsman Commission (NOC). The NOC is designed to both guarantee access to justice on the part of the underprivileged, and spur the Indonesian courts into living up to their obligations.
The creation of the NOC was met with considerable enthusiasm. In the three years following its inception, the NOC fielded 2,500 complaints by Indonesian citizens and the NOC processed 80 percent of these. Twenty-five percent of those named in the NOC grievances took action to adopt the Commission’s recommendations. The creation of an independent human rights commission tapped into a deeply felt need on the part of Indonesians. The NOC’s status as an independent government body rather than one attached to the Ministry of Justice, increased popular confidence in its impartiality and ability to represent the interests of citizens.
Challenges: Lacking enforcement power, the NOC can be sidelined by institutions which simply ignore its recommendations. The NOC’s centralized, primarily urban organization is far from many of the most disadvantaged Indonesians who live in remote or rural areas.
Djojosoekarto. 2003. The National Ombudsman Commission as the custodian and conscience system of access to justice for the underprivileged in Indonesia.
Latin America – Ombudsman Offices Act Against Violence Against Women
The Human Rights Ombudsman Office in Guatemala created a register for recording violent deaths of women and since 2003 publishes an annual report with salient statistics on the femicides.
The Ombudsman’s Office in Panama monitored the implementation of the domestic violence law with assistance from the Prosecutor’s Office in 2005. The monitoring revealed, among other points, that conciliation measures were being used in domestic violence cases although provisions for conciliation were not in the legislation. It also noted the cases which were dropped and the ones in which protective measures were not enforced.
The Bolivian Ombudsman’s Office investigated the actions of the Family Protection Brigades, the law enforcement branch devoted to domestic violence cases, and developed a series of recommendations for Ministries and police. As a result, more resources were earmarked for the Brigades, training on domestic violence increased, and the number of female police officers increased.
Source: Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. 2009. No more! The right of women to live a life free of violence in Latin America and the Caribbean
- Support a standard rotation of judicial assignments. Judges at each level of court should be rotated at regular intervals to different subject areas, i.e., commercial court, family court, etc. Rotation of judges reduces the opportunity to bring cases before a particular judge and can reduce entrenched harmful habits, such as corruption.
- Publish an annual review of cases reported and prosecuted, and case outcomes.
- Recognize and support the role of civil society and the media. These groups can monitor the outcome of decisions and call for reforms. Both groups should have free access to court records and should disseminate information about complaint mechanisms and any complaints in process. The court system should encourage their role as monitors and disseminators of complaint procedures to the public (United Nations Development Program, 2005).
- Promote a database to coordinate information regarding perpetrators among justice system actors, including different court systems. Judges, magistrates, referees, and bail and probation staff should be able to access the criminal record of a perpetrator, pre-existing court orders including orders for protection, outstanding warrants, and information on probation or parole terms. The more information a court has about a perpetrator, the more it can assess risk and monitor a perpetrator’s previous compliance, thus advancing victim safety.
Tools on Ethics & Codes of Conduct:
Examples of codes of ethics from many countries can be found here: http://www.abanet.org/cpr/links.html#Foreign
Standards of Practice for Lawyers Representing Victims of Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Stalking in Civil Protection Order Cases (American Bar Association, 2007). Available in English. Details the ethical duties of lawyers representing survivors of gender-based violence, including culturally competent representation, effective client communication, safety plans, and descriptions of survivor-centred office intake procedures and pre-and post-hearing responsibilities.
Legal ethics in Vietnamese legal education system (ASEAN Law Association, 2002). Sample canon of legal ethics. Available in English.
Proposed Resolution on Training in Legal Ethics of European Lawyers (European Bars Federation, 2008). Available in English, Italian, French, German, and Spanish.
Policy Manual (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct, 2011). Available in English.
Tools on Court and Court Records Automation Systems
The Domestic Abuse Information Network Database is a Microsoft Access database programme designed for use by domestic abuse agencies. It assembles the information necessary to track and monitor domestic assault related cases in a coordinated community response to domestic violence. The database can evaluate demographic data, number and types of arrests, case processing time, case dispositions, and re-offenses, as well as analyze police, court, and offender programme records and more. Reports show trends in the system and can help to determine policy or procedural changes that might need to be made. Screens include offender and victim demographic information, law enforcement events with corresponding details on risk factors, criminal court hearings and probation actions, civil court hearings and protection orders, and participation in offenders' programmes. To order via mail, click here. To order online, click here.
E- Justice: Piecing IT Together (Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, South Africa). Available in English. Describes the plan to fully automate the justice sector in South Africa, including a financial administrative system, a court processing and case management system, and a records management system.