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Judicial Impartiality

15/12/2010

Today is Judges’ Day in Ukraine, which is a good opportunity to discuss an essential element of a democracy – judicial impartiality. Independent and professional judges are the foundation of a fair, impartial, and constitutionally guaranteed system of courts of law known as the judiciary. However, many people do not understand judicial impartiality, so that is what we will explain.

Statue of Justice in the United States

What does judicial impartiality mean? Impartiality means that the judge treats the parties before him equally, providing them an equal opportunity to present their respective cases, and is seen to treat the parties this way. Impartiality means the judge has no personal stake in the outcome. Absence of bias is essential to the judicial process – this is why when you see a statue of justice in the United States, she is blindfolded.

With impartiality comes objectivity. Objectivity means making judicial decisions based on considerations that are external judge, and may even conflict with her personal view. Judges must consider the accepted values of society, even if they are not their values. Judges must express what is regarded as moral and just by the society in which they operate, even if it is not moral and just in their own personal views. To ensure their impartiality, judicial ethics require judges to step aside (or “recuse” themselves) from deciding cases in which they have a conflict of interest.

In democracies, independence from political pressures of elected officials and legislatures guarantees the impartiality of judges. Judicial rulings should be based on the facts of a case, individual merits and legal arguments, and relevant laws, without any restrictions or improper influence by interested parties. These principles ensure equal legal protection for all.

The difficult thing about objectivity is that it is requires a judge to judge herself. She must be aware if she has values that lack general acceptance and that her personal opinions may be exceptional or unusual. Basically, the judge must be able to look at herself from the outside, to criticize, analyze, and control her personal opinions. A judge who thinks she knows it all, and that her opinions are right to the exclusion of all else, can not properly fulfill her role. Judges with religious or secular outlooks on life may not impose those outlooks on the society in which they live.

Judicial impartiality protects democracies in another way – it serves to act as a check on governmental power. Judges can review public laws and declare them in violation of the nation’s constitution. This power, however, requires that the courts be seen as independent and able to rest their decisions upon the law, not political considerations.

An independent judiciary assures people that court decisions will be based on the nation’s laws and constitution, not on shifting political power or the pressures of a temporary majority. Endowed with this independence, the judicial system in a democracy serves as a safeguard of the people’s rights and freedoms.

Sources of information: America.govThe judge in a democracy, by Aharon Baraḳ, United Nations Development Program.

 

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