Judicial challenges in times of upheaval

30 November 2020 – The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdowns have split the world even further apart, as the health crisis continues to put new pressures on daily life – including restricting travel, which prevents in-person meetings of family members and international partners. This has presented new challenges to communication, to discussions amongst peers, and has changed the way many people work. For some, it slowed down their output; for others, lockdown generated a desire to do more.

Fields which have been affected by the pandemic include the judicial sectors around the world, with the postponement of trials and a slowing down of judicial processes. In Lebanon, the pandemic was exacerbated by the August 4th explosion in Beirut, an event with catastrophic consequences on a human level and on the city’s infrastructure. For Judge Jean Tannous, who suffered a personal tragedy in the explosion, this was nevertheless an occasion to insist even more on dedicating himself to his work, and to continue promoting judicial integrity.

“A judge must not only be a ‘good judge,’ but also a ‘good person,’ even if views about what that means may vary in different quarters of society,” states the Commentary on the Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct. “From the public’s perspective, a judge has not only pledged to serve the ideals of justice and truth on which the rule of law and the foundations of democracy are built, but also to embody them.”

As this international standard suggests, it is widely accepted that judges’ behaviour should be exemplary and bolster citizens’ opinion of the judiciary. Many judges go beyond this, to give back to their communities, and to work tirelessly to improve the judiciary even when they are not in the public eye, and even when they are experiencing difficult circumstances.

For Judge Tannous, these trying times called for taking the initiative and embodying the kind of integrity expounded by the Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct. In addition to his professional and personal obligations, he set out to translate the Non-Binding Guidelines on the Use of Social Media by Judges into Arabic and French, to further raise awareness about the ethical pitfalls associated with judges’ use of social media – at a time when the use of these digital platforms has increased exponentially with the growth of the global pandemic, and, in the case of Lebanon, in the face of a national tragedy.

These new translations will not only benefit judges and judicial staff in the Arabic- and French-speaking world, but they will also build bridges and ensure that more judges worldwide have the tools to tackle this emerging challenge.

Judge Tannous has always been an advocate for judicial integrity. In an interview he gave to the Global Judicial Integrity Network in early-2020 about the use of social media, he stressed that judges and judiciaries needed additional guidance to tackle the rapidly evolving social media. The Non-Binding Guidelines produced by the Global Judicial Integrity Network are intended to fill this gap. In the words of Judge Tannous, “they serve as a source of inspiration for any authority charged with regulating the activity of magistrates on social media.”

At a stressful time when it would not have been expected of him, Judge Tannous nevertheless decided to increase his commitment to judicial integrity, and to contribute what he could to the challenges judges are facing as meetings and communications move to an even greater degree online. This is an example of professional and judicial integrity that goes beyond the diligence suggested in the Bangalore Principles, and an excellent lesson to many that there are always new ways to adapt our highest principles to prevailing circumstances, no matter how difficult they may be.

Additional information

Global Judicial Integrity Network