As Iraq joins as new UNODC Judicial Ethics Training Site, Chief Justice expresses need to boost gender equality in national courts

22 February 2021 - With the judiciary a necessary cornerstone of law and order, ensuring a common understanding of ethics and the role that the court plays in society as well as working towards fair and equitable representation in the legal system is crucial. With this in mind, UNODC this past week convened a fruitful high-level discussion to mark the Judiciary of Iraq bringing the Global Judicial Integrity Network past the landmark threshold of 60 training sites for the Judicial Ethics Training Tools, as well as celebrate the commitment of Iraq to their implementation. The discussion featured the Chief Justices of the State of Qatar and the Republic of Iraq, along with a number of national judges who collectively shared their thoughts and ideas on this area. Held as part of the Doha Declaration Global Programme's ongoing work on judicial integrity and the rule of law, it comes as the number of jurisdictions now taking part in the Judicial Ethics Training Programme reaches 66, bolstering national efforts to curb corruption in the judiciary across the world.

In his remarks during this virtual gathering, the Chief Justice of the State of Qatar, Dr. Hassan bin Lahdan Alhassan Almohanadi, flagged the long tradition of judicial codes in the Middle East, most prominently in the Republic of Iraq where the Code of Hammurabi - one of the first sets of written laws - dates back more than 3,000 years. Some 30 centuries later, the Republic of Iraq is embarking on another judicial chapter, as a training site of the Global Judicial Integrity Network's Judicial Ethics Training Programme, only the second in the Middle Eastern and Northern Africa (MENA) region.

Within this wider area of judicial affairs, gender-related considerations took the forefront during the discussion. The Chief Justice of the Republic of Iraq, Faiq Zidan, described how his country's Judicial Council is committed to "empowering women to hold judicial positions" and that efforts to increase the percentage of women judges in Iraq were already underway, noting that "the number of female judges recently reached 116, in comparison with the period before 2003 when there were only 18."

In the MENA region, the gender balance of judiciaries varies widely, with court positions in some countries only open to men. As a result, according to a 2019 United Nations' report, only 16 per cent of judges in the region are female 1 - a number which will only increase with the engagement of judiciaries, such as is being promoted through the Global Judicial Integrity Network.

As expressed during the meeting, the objective of Iraq also takes into consideration the fact that female representation is often much lower in high courts and that women judges are sometimes excluded from particular types of courts, such as those dealing with criminal issues. Speaking during this virtual gathering, Judge Dheaa Jaafar Lafta of Iraq underscored that the judiciary hopes to enable "women to play their role on an equal basis with men and work in the judicial system in both the civil and penal courts." 

In addition to increased gender representation, broader gender-related issues in the judiciary also include ensuring judges' impartiality and preventing gender bias in the adjudication of cases. As Judge Aaiad Mohsen Thmad of Iraq described it, the judiciary "needs to treat all those turning to the justice system with respect and in accordance with the laws." Teaching judges to apply these key principles of impartiality and equality in practical situations is a key feature of the Judicial Ethics Training Tools.

This, and other areas, are also considerations that feature heavily in UNODC's paper on 'Gender-related Judicial Integrity Issues' - an important addition in this area that examines the ways in which gender-related issues may affect judicial integrity and the adequacy of existing safeguards in promoting appropriate conduct and taking corrective action with respect to inappropriate conduct. Indeed, while properly considering and addressing gender-related issues in the judiciary is complex, it is with renewed commitment and through cultivating open channels of dialogue with other training sites that judiciaries will achieve this goal - efforts which were fully expressed during this recent discussion.


Additional information:

Judicial Integrity

Gender-Related Judicial Integrity Issues

[1] United Nations, "Women in the Judiciary in the Arab States" (2019)