Judicial integrity: a fundamental commitment

By Judge José Igreja Matos 

José Igreja Matos is the President of the European Association of Judges and Vice President of the International Association of Judges. Recently, UNODC spoke with Judge Matos about his experience in tackling corruption within the judiciary as well as UNODC's forthcoming Global Judicial Integrity Network, which launches in 2018. All opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the author as an external expert and do not necessarily reflect the official position of UNODC.


"Adela Cortina, a well-known philosopher, emphasizes that corruption - etymologically related with the idea of 'destruction' - is encouraged by the weakening of the so-called 'internal good', described as the reason that justifies the existence of any given profession. Since judges exist to accomplish the essential goal of delivering justice to their fellow citizens, a vigorous ethical commitment should constitute a genetic trace of its professional code.

On the other hand, an irreprehensible ethical behaviour by the legal professionals, particularly judges, has an essential role in the legitimacy of the judicial system, as necessarily based on a bond of trust with the involved community. Ethics, as Rodolfo Vigo explains, endorses Democracy, since it implies an open debate about professional conducts, besides inspiring magistrates to go far beyond the mere obedience to their functional duties as prescribed by Law. Ethics strengthens and reinforces Judicial Independence by promoting the implementation of a culture of excellence, the ultimate ambition of any judiciary.

The International Association of Judges is the most representative organization of judges in the world, comprising 85 national associations of magistrates from all continents. In 2014, at its 57th annual meeting held in Foz de Iguaçu, Brazil, the General Assembly of the IAJ approved a Strategic Plan for the following years. One of the main points of the plan was the project 'Judges against Corruption', a concrete commitment to enhance judicial integrity and to fight corruption, one of the worst scourges of our societies.

Since then the IAJ has been involved in several activities, especially in Latin America, devoted to this essential purpose. The fight against corruption within the judiciary is an essential prerequisite to demand for integrity and transparency in all other State Powers given that the only consistent demands are those legitimated by concrete examples and positive leadership.

Therefore, it is now unquestionable that judges are not shying away from this relevant subject. In 2016, the first study commission of the International Association of Judges on Measures to Promote Integrity and Combat Corruption within the Judiciary supported "an emphasis on the importance of fostering a culture of integrity within the judiciary and the courts more generally". It is the right time to guarantee further steps to improve the transparency of the court systems along with the implementation of measures to support and enhance the integrity of judges in order to reduce the risk of corrupt behaviour by judicial officers in the future.

In this perspective, IAJ as a whole, but also its regional groups, especially the European Association of Judges, that assembles 44 associations from the continent, considers the Global Judicial Integrity Network an encouraging instrument to uphold our global motto: 'Promoting an independent judiciary worldwide."