Supreme Court justices unite for judicial integrity

Jakarta (Indonesia), 14 February 2012 - Senior judges and legal experts from around the world met recently to address challenges and practical ways to promote integrity-based reforms of South-East Asia judicial systems that uphold the rule of law and human rights. The high-ranking legal figures, including several Chief Justices, examined ways to improve the institutions that are designed to provide accountability and oversight of the judiciary, including judicial commissions and anti-corruption bodies. They agreed on a communiqué with concrete steps to promote judicial integrity.

"Judicial integrity is key to more effective justice delivery, public trust and credibility," said Chief Justice Harifin A. Tumpa, Supreme Court of Indonesia. He stressed that many countries in South-East Asia are in transition politically and economically, and that people expect governing institutions to live up to higher professional and ethical standards.

More than 130 senior judges, academia and legal practioners from 16 countries, including Chief Justices from Afghanistan and Bangladesh, Supreme Court Justices from Nepal and Sri Lanka, and the President of the Court of Appeal from Timor-Leste, met in Jakarta, Indonesia, at the Regional Workshop on Judicial Integrity in South-East Asia. Convened by Indonesia's Supreme Court and the Judicial Commission of Indonesia and organized with support from UNODC, UNDP and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, the workshop offered participants a global platform to share experiences and challenges, review the current status of integrity-based judicial reforms in South-East Asia and discuss practical ways to promote judicial integrity.

The judicial integrity workshop is the first of its kind to be held in South-East Asia. Throughout the world, extensive corruption exists in the judiciary: extortion, bribery, political influence, trading in influence, biased participations in trials and nepotism. Part of the international donor community's on-going support for the work of the Judicial Integrity Group, the workshop aimed to promote judicial integrity worldwide.

"A judiciary of undisputed integrity is the bedrock institution essential for ensuring compliance with democracy and the rule of law. Even when all other protections fail, it provides a bulwark to the public against any encroachments on its rights and freedoms under the law," according to the Judicial Integrity Group site.

"Judicial integrity is a mix of interrelated concepts: independence, impartiality, integrity, propriety in one's life, equality before the law for everyone and respect for all without any discrimination, and competence and diligence by keeping up to date with the law," explained The Hon. Michael Kirby, Justice (rtd) at the High Court of Australia and Rapporteur of the Judicial Integrity Group.

The Ambassador of Germany to Indonesia, H.E. Dr. Norbert Baas, lauded economic integration in South-East Asia and emphasized the importance of judicial integrity to support sustainable economic growth. Judicial integrity is key to more effective justice delivery, public trust and credibility, he noted.

The workshop examined national reforms in Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand. It focused on international standards to uphold integrity in the justice sector, pursuant to Article 11 of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC). Participants discussed how different countries apply the 'Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct' and the mechanisms and institutions designed to provide accountability and internal and external oversight of the judiciary, including judicial commissions, anti-corruption bodies, and non-state actors such as the media and specialized NGOs.

Discussions focused on codes of conduct, asset declarations, adequate salaries for judges, the need for more integrity assessments in the judiciary, the usefulness of integrated electronic case management systems, public access to decisions, the role of the media and civil society media in promoting judicial integrity and reforms, and the importance of public trust in the judiciary. The final agenda of the workshop is accessible here.

At the end of the workshop, participants issued a communiqué with conclusions, recommendations, and follow up actions. These included the translation and dissemination of the Bangalore Principles to judiciaries in the region, including its commentary and measures for effective implementation.

The Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct were developed by the Judicial Group on Strengthening Judicial Integrity - later named the Judicial Integrity Group. Intended to establish standards for ethical conduct of judges, they provide guidance to judges and offer a framework for regulating judicial conduct.

The Bangalore Principles recognise six core judiciary values: Independence, impartiality, integrity, propriety, equality, competence, and diligence. They stipulate principles and applications to guide the judiciary in their day-to-day work. They forbid certain behaviours and point out what judges may do as part of their professional duties. These principles were later adopted by the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in resolution 2006/23.

The workshop also called upon UNDP and UNODC to undertake upon request missions to South-East Asia countries undergoing major transition, to explore with the judiciary and other justice sector stakeholders possible technical assistance that could be provided with a view to strengthening judicial integrity.