Reduce judicial corruption and improve access to justice for all
Corrupt judicial systems undermine reforms and are a major impediment to ensuring access to justice and human rights for ordinary citizens across the world, says a new report published by the United Nations Development Programme and U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre on 8 April. Titled, A Transparent and Accountable Judiciary to Deliver Justice for All, the report cites survey data suggesting that the public perceive the judiciary as the second most corrupt public institution, after the police.
Globally, one in four people said they paid a bribe to court officials, according to a 2013 survey covering 95 countries, conducted by the NGO Transparency International. By 2015, TI found that 28% of citizens across Sub-Saharan Africa who had contact with a judge or court official paid a bribe—followed closely by bribes having been paid to those who had contact with the police and to a lesser degree other public sector services.
The recently adopted 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development includes targets for providing access to justice and tackling corruption. Countries are now encouraged to identify country-level targets and indicators to measure progress against the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including for reducing ‘corruption and bribery in all forms’ (SDG 16.5). Justice sector institutions will be a crucial source of information for baselines and for measuring progress towards some of the targets, such as reducing corruption and bribery. At the same time, adequate measures are needed to assess the prevalence and types of corruption within the justice institutions themselves.
The report provides a fresh perspective on ways to develop integrity plans as part of broader judicial reforms, by illustrating experiences that can inspire other countries in their efforts to deliver justice for all. A Transparent and Accountable Judiciary to Deliver Justice for All discusses the limits of available normative instruments to foster judicial integrity, as well as existing diagnostic tools.
For example, though in many countries the Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct have been an important reference for the development of codes of conduct, there is increasing recognition of the limits of self-regulation by judges. In order to uphold judicial integrity, it is fundamental to balance legitimate concerns for independence of the judiciary while keeping judges, prosecutors, public defenders, and court officials accountable in case of abuse.
The report presents country-experiences of efforts to reform the judiciary, e.g:
- Assessment of judicial capacity and integrity to develop evidence-based reforms
- Stengthening internal oversight within the judiciary
- Modernisation of court management systems
- Disclosure of information
- Public monitoring of trials.
Experiences of judicial reform and lessons to strengthen judicial integrity, access to justice, and the rule of law are all highlighted in the report. It also discusses aspects and approaches of judicial reforms in eleven countries, building on a call for information in May 2015, and expert discussions held during the 16th International Anti-Corruption Conference in Kuala Lumpur.
Covering a multitude of contexts (across regions and including fragile states: Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, Indonesia, Kenya, Kosovo, Nepal, Nigeria, Paraguay, Philippines, and Somaliland), the report emphasises that the most effective ways to pursue judicial reform need to be identified and tailored to the specific context.
The Somaliland experience shows how a strong judicial council can ‘close the loop’ in the efforts to promote judicial integrity and accountability. Judicial councils and other similar bodies internal to the judiciary are typically responsible for developing and implementing a judicial code of conduct. In the case of Somaliland, the judicial council’s inspection team also conducted trial observations and analysed court verdicts. Where evidence of misconduct was found, the judicial council imposed sanctions— including the dismissal of judges.
Stakeholders such as associations of judges and court users can become allies in reforming judicial systems. For example, the report cites the use of surveys and consultations with court users that have led to more responsive services and reduced demands for bribes in countries such as Kenya and Nigeria. Even in post-conflict environments such as Afghanistan, where change is difficult, organisations like Integrity Watch Afghanistan have been able to work with citizens to monitor trials, improving the administration of justice.
While technology is not offered as a panacea to address corruption within justice systems, modernisation and automation of judicial services can be enablers for judicial transparency and accountability. For example, in Indonesia digitising more than one million court decisions and publishing them online since 2007, has increased transparency and, for example, allowed journalists and academics to compare decisions in similar cases and bring attention to inconsistencies in the verdicts. In the past, copies of judgments were usually limited to excerpts containing the punishment or penalty. Now judges are obliged to make comprehensive and clear judgments available to the public online.
The success of these reform efforts are predicated on strong political will and national ownership. The report concludes with some general lessons for making reforms more effective:
- Map out risks to integrity and assess the capacity for change.
- Adopt a phased approach to achieve sustainable results.
- Match ethics frameworks and oversight with actual disciplinary actions.
- Understand the political economy of corruption in the judiciary.
- Engage in dialogue at the decision making level, ensuring that reform is seen as capacity building and not as a threat.
- Promote modernisation, automation, and access to information for more efficiency, transparency, accountability.
- Strengthen community based monitoring mechanisms to strengthen or rebuild public trust in the judiciary.
- Conduct further research on the other institutions of the justice system, like the police and prisons.
In the long run, the justice system as a whole needs to be taken into account in order to produce sustainable results in terms of capacity, integrity and accountability.
Global Anticorruption Blog. E. Beth. 2016. Curbing judicial corruption to make “Justice for all” a reality.
U4 Issue paper. V. Jennett, S. A. Schütte, and P. Jahn. 2016. Mapping anti-corruption tools in the judicial sector.
U4 Issue paper. R. E. Messick and S. A. Schütte. 2015. Corruption risks in the criminal justice chain and tools for assessment.
U4 Brief. R. E. Messick. 2015. Uncorking the bottlenecks: Using political economy analysis to address court delay.
U4 Theme: Justice sector.