Duties, rights and obligations of judicial officers of the Court

All judges in courts and tribunals, whether salaried or fee-paid, legal or non-legal, including Magistrates and Coroners

 

The Guide to Judicial Conduct [1] sets out three basic principles guiding judicial conduct.

    • Judicial independence, and
    • Impartiality, and
    • Integrity

They are a distillation of the six fundamental values set out in the Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct that were endorsed at the 59th session of the United Nations Human Rights Commission at Geneva in April 2003 and which form the key statement on judicial ethics [2] .

Judicial Independence:

Judicial independence is a cornerstone of our system of government in a democratic society and a safeguard of the freedom and rights of the citizen under the rule of law. The judiciary must be seen to be independent of the legislative and executive arms of government both as individuals and as a whole.

Judges should bear in mind that the principle of judicial independence extends well beyond the traditional separation of powers and requires that a judge be, and be seen to be, independent of all sources of power or influence in society, including the media and commercial interests.

Judges must be immune to the effects of publicity, whether favourable or unfavourable. That does not of course mean being immune to an awareness of the profound effect judicial decisions may have, not only on the lives of people before the court, but sometimes upon issues of great concern to the public.

Impartiality:

The judicial oath provides:

“I will do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of this Realm, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will.”

In taking that oath, the judge acknowledges that he or she is primarily accountable to the law which he or she must administer. Coroners and some fee paid judges do not take the judicial oath, but they too are primarily accountable to the law which they administer.

Judges should strive to ensure that their conduct, both in and out of court maintains and enhances the confidence of the public, the legal profession and litigants, in their personal impartiality and that of the judiciary.

The question whether an appearance of bias or possible conflict of interest is sufficient to disqualify an officeholder from hearing a case is the subject of Strasbourg, English and Welsh and Commonwealth jurisprudence. English cases include Locobail (UK) Ltd v Bayfield Properties Ltd [2002] QB 451, R v Bow Street Magistrates ex parte Pinochet (No.2) [2000] 1 AC 119, Re Medicaments and Related Classes of Goods (No.2) [2001] 1 WLR 700, M v Islington LBC [2002] 1 FLR 95 and Lawal v Northern Spirit Ltd [2003] UKHL 35.

Integrity:

Judges are expected to put the obligations of judicial office above their own personal interests. In practical terms, this means that judges are expected to display:

  • Intellectual honesty
  • Respect for the law and observance of the law
  • Prudent management of financial affairs
  • Diligence and care in the discharge of judicial duties
  • Discretion in personal relationships, social contacts and activities

A judge’s conduct in court should uphold the status of judicial office, the commitment made in the judicial oath and the confidence of litigants in particular and the public in general. The judge should seek to be courteous, patient, tolerant and punctual and should respect the dignity of all. He or she should ensure that no one in court is exposed to any display of bias or prejudice from any source. In the case of those with a disability, care should be taken that arrangements made for and during a court hearing do not put them at a disadvantage [3].

The principles of exercising equality and fairness of treatment have always been fundamental to the role and conduct of the judiciary when carrying out their judicial functions and are inherent in the judicial oath

Behaviour towards court staff and court users:

Members of the judiciary should seek to be courteous, patient, tolerant and punctual and should respect the dignity of all. They should ensure that no one in court is exposed to any display of bias or prejudice on grounds which include but are not to be limited to “race, colour, sex, religion, national origin, caste, disability, age, marital status, sexual orientation, social and economic status and other like causes”. In the case of those with a disability, care should be taken that arrangements made for and during a Court hearing do not put them at a disadvantage. Further guidance is given in the Judicial College’s Equal Treatment Bench Book [4]. The duty remains on the judicial officeholder to apply the law as it relates to allegedly discriminatory conduct.

Care should be taken to ensure proper access to justice and equality of treatment where one or both of the parties before the court are unrepresented [5].

[1] https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Guide-to-Judicial-Conduct-Guide-Fourth-Amendment-2020-v3-1.pdf

[2] The six principles are: independence, impartiality, integrity, propriety, equality and competence and diligence. The Bangalore Principles 2002 can be found in full at http://www.unodc.org/pdf/crime/corruption/judicial_group/Bangalore_principles.pdf

[3] For further guidance see the Judicial College’s Equal Treatment Bench Book. https://judicialcollege.judiciary.gov.uk/ mod/book/view.php?id=27208

[4] https://judicialcollege.judiciary.gov.uk/mod/book/view.php?id=27208

[5] See in particular, the requirements set out in CPR 3.1A.