From Washington, UNODC launches guidelines to uphold judicial integrity in the age of social media

06 November 2019 - The application of rights combined with technology can do wonders for international development, but only when used properly. With technology having become so ubiquitous, and with its impact felt increasingly in numerous development fields, it was chosen as the theme of this year's annual Law, Justice and Development Week hosted by the World Bank. To better understand the current development climate and how technology impacts it, 165 organizations and some 200 speakers are debating numerous ramifications of technology over 67 sessions during the weeklong conference at the World Bank's Washington, D.C. headquarters.

For UNODC's Global Programme for the Implementation of the Doha Declaration, these matters have been at the forefront of several initiatives to promote rule of law, and the peace, justice and strong institutions to which SDG16 aspires. For instance, the role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in judiciaries was the topic of one of the panels which the Global Judicial Integrity Network organized for the conference in coordination with The Future Society and the World Bank; to launch the discussion, UNODC Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Officer Jason Reichelt introduced several salient points on the impact of AI in the context of rule of law.

Speaking about the questions raised by its increased use in courts, Mr. Reichelt noted that "Artificial Intelligence can improve the efficiency of judiciaries, especially with regards to court administration tasks - such as automatically assigning cases to judges or marking cases as urgent. However, these benefits come with risks, and judiciaries need to ensure that the court and case management software using AI are operating without bias - and without error."

In contrast to Artificial Intelligence, which has just begun to spread in most fields and is still a relative newcomer in judiciaries, the use of social media is already much more widespread among judges and judicial staff, raising questions over potential ethical concerns. The theme has been much researched and debated by the Network since its founding, and the intense interest it has provoked has led to the Network's development of Guidelines on the Use of Social Media by Judges, launched this week during a dedicated conference session on the subject by the Hon. Justice Lynne Leitch, Superior Court of Justice of Ontario and a member of the Network's Advisory Board.

Arguing for a more thorough understanding of the possible implications of judges' online presence, she told the panel: "Judges should, of course, be involved in the communities they serve, but the public benefit of such involvement and participation through social media must be balanced with the need to maintain public confidence in the judiciary, in the right to a fair trial, and in the impartiality, integrity and independence of the judicial system. This is what the guidelines aim to address."

These international, non-binding guidelines are meant to inform and inspire judiciaries which are contemplating addressing the topic, and to inform judges on the potential risks (but also opportunities) in using social media. Among other issues, the guidelines discuss matters such as the identification of judges on social media, the kind of content judges should post and their behaviour in commenting on any topic, the concept of online friendships and relationships, and the general issue of privacy and security.

Anurag Bana, Senior Legal Advisor at the International Bar Association, which co-organized the event with UNODC, found social media challenges to be especially tricky in the judiciary, but spoke of both the pros and the cons around this. "This is a matter which one has to recognize as both a challenge and an opportunity," he said. "On the one hand, there are evident risks attached to social media and judges; on the other, it allows those in the judiciary to be more up-to-date with what is going on in the legal world."

The guidelines add pertinent and much-needed context and guidance to the universally recognized Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct, which have identified six core values to guide judges' work and life; independence, impartiality, integrity, propriety, equality, and competence and diligence. While these are applicable in any circumstance, the rapid evolution of social media's imprint on modern life has made it essential for judges to better understand how participation in social media could, inadvertently, jeopardize aspects of judicial conduct. In particular, the various nuances of "friending" or "following" online could have more serious consequences for a judge relative to other professionals, just as "liking" and "sharing" - let alone commenting - may lead to interpretations and associations which had not been intended.

For all these issues and others of varying complexity, UNODC's guidelines recommend that judges be provided with regular training and guidance on the basics of social media, on the different platforms available, and on the potential advantages and disadvantages judges' participation on these platforms could present for them and their families. Whether or not they use it themselves, on an institutional or individual basis, it is also important for judges to have a general knowledge of the communication channels now used by an increasing number of people around the world; this would contribute to maintaining public confidence in the judiciary, while facilitating judges' involvement with their community.

Additional information:
Global Judicial Integrity Network
Guidelines on the Use of Social Media by Judges
Additional Resources on the Use of Social Media in the Network's Online Library
Additional Resources on the Use of Artificial Intelligence in the Network's Online Library


Know more:   The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals 

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