Corruption seems to be everywhere, in politics, in economics, in the health system, in education and in the justice system as well. It seems to be in the DNA of humankind, and it is especially problematic, when it affects the justice system, because: "who guards the guardians"?
Once I spoke with a colleague judge from a country known for widespread corruption, and I asked him how much money he would need as a salary in order not to be susceptible to corruption. He answered: "if they come and tell me that I have to decide in a certain way and that, if I do not do it, my wife will die, I can take money from them as well, do I not?"
This is an important aspect of corruption. We all despise a corrupt judiciary, but do we ever ask ourselves why judges are corrupt? Is it not also because they are threatened, like my fellow judge? Do we expect judges to behave like heroes who risk their own life or that of their family? Happy is the country that does not need heroes as judges!
In the last decade, the associations of judges and the creators of the judicial policies have been focusing on the questions of promoting independence or ethical issues, but generally little attention has been paid to the issues of corruption in the judiciary. As a result, there is often an absence of streamlined sectoral anti-corruption and risk management policies in the judiciary, a lack of integrity and corruption measurement practices, and insufficient communication with relevant stakeholders, media and the public.
Corruption risks in the judiciary should be identified in areas in which judges exercise discretion. Judges should have unfettered freedom to decide cases impartially, without pressure and in accordance with the law and the facts. Most frequently, external pressure is canalized through internal judicial channels, such as judicial councils, superior courts, presidents or the judges themselves. External pressure can also take a form of a social pressure by peers or friendly relations among judges, with judges giving and receiving favours due to belonging to the same social group - judicial community. External pressure can also come through negative comments from the executive branch proposing measures such as general re-election and vetting of all judges, which represents a direct pressure on judges.
In the past, the Ethiopian judicial system had been seriously affected by lack of public trust. Failure of integrity both at the individual and institutional level was the main cause of the distrust. In particular, the problem of corruption, favoritism, and inaccessibility was said to be characteristically rampant within Ethiopia's judiciary at all levels. Due to this, citizens had generally no or little trust in the judiciary which, in turn, has significantly diminished the public trust in the rule of law, hope for democratization, and the protection of fundamental rights.
With a view to ensuring judicial independence, addressing the problem of integrity, and improving transparency and accountability, the leadership of the court, in close consultation with stakeholders, has taken a series of efforts including revision and enactment of the legislation. These legislative frameworks and related activities provided robust bases to effectively tackle the problem of judicial integrity.
Each and every judge is fully aware of the importance of ensuring that court sessions are open to the public, that not even the slightest obstacle is put in the way of journalists who want to report on court cases, and that all rulings are read in an open court. These are all part of the modern interpretation of the rule of law. The interpretation that was perhaps best expressed by the English author J.B. Morton when he wrote: "Justice must not only be seen to be done but has to be seen to be believed."
However, does not that same principle apply also to judicial integrity? Should integrity not also 'be seen to be believed'?
Integrity of the judiciary is of vital importance to the society. The integrity of a judge should be without a shadow of a doubt. But how does one actually show the integrity of a judge? How can it be 'seen to be believed' by the public? And how can the society believe in the integrity of the judiciary as an organization? A judge as an individual can be honest, honorable and incorruptible, but if their colleagues are not, and if the organization is imbued with corruption, this will reflect on that judge and will affect their work.
On the occasion of the first ever International Day of Women Judges on 10 March 2022, the members of the Advisory Board of the Global Judicial Integrity Network would like to share with the Network's audience their views on the importance of this International Day and the role of women judges in strengthening the judiciary and judicial integrity. The Advisory Board members invite all participants of the Network to join them in celebrating this International Day and reflecting on the ways to promote the full and equal participation of women at all levels of the judiciary.