Accountability of judges
VIA IURIS advocates balancing judicial independence by their accountability. Within our topics – judicial ethics, quality of court decisions and of disciplinary proceedings we organize conferences, engage in analytical and legislative activities.
- System of judges’ accountability (code of ethics, ethical commission, education)
- Quality of judicial decisions
- Access to court decisions
Courts fundamentally affect the quality of our life by their decisions and actions. However, statistics show that 27% Slovaks consider judiciary to be the most corrupted segment of the public life and up to 65% of us do not trust the courts. Such a level of mistrust puts Slovakia on the tail of the Europe. Judiciary struggles with separation, politicization and corruption. Until now the attention has been mainly focused on the improvement of institutions within judiciary and relations between them. It clear however that this approach is not sufficient to for well functioning judiciary in Slovakia. Therefore we consider it important to pay attention to the personality of a judge.
Currently the main topic of VIA IURIS in the area of judiciary is the system of judges’ accountability. Judicial power, like the other two powers of state, comes from the citizens. However, judges, who exercise this power, are not held accountable in regular elections. Since the implementation of power is without an effective feedback from its originator, a greater emphasis should be placed on the accountability. Definition of values, reflected either in obligations determined by law or in ethical standards, contributes to an accountable exercise of judicial power.
Judicial Code of ethics and related system of ethical education are important preventive tools strengthening ethics of judicial conduct. The aim of the ethical code is to contribute to the value orientation of judges and therefore it should help to maintain high ethical standards in the exercise of their profession. To tackle relevant issues VIA IURIS will use its analytical, facilitation and legislative experience to contribute to the debate on the current situation of judiciary, the adoption of a new ethical code and necessary legislative changes in disciplinary liability.
However, VIA IURIS has already been involved in the issue of judiciary for several years. In the past our team provided a complex set of trainings for judges and judicial trainees. Besides the specialized legal education in selected human rights topics, each training contained section on personal growth of judge, development of abilities and skills in this area. Set of trainings for judges was delivered in cooperation with leading experts from the field of psychology, Judicial Academy of the Slovak Republic and partner organizations from Austria, Slovenia and Hungary.
Since 1999 we have been organizing a cycle of conferences Access to justice: Barriers and solutions. Their aim is to identify barriers (or discuss previously identified barriers) in the access to justice and find systematic solutions to overcome them. Participants of the conferences are lawyers from various legal professions: judges of general courts, constitutional court and European judicial institutions; attorneys; members of parliament; university professors; public officials as well as representatives of NGO sector from Slovakia and abroad.
One of the fundamental barriers we have discovered and contributed to overcoming was access to judicial/court decisions. Many courts refused to provide their decisions to public, some courts provided only the verdict without reasoning and deliberations. Other courts made their decisions public on internet, however the vast majority of decisions was not available. We have prepared legal analysis of the situation (in Slovak) and in June 2010 proposed legislative changes (in Slovak). Our proposal has been incorporated into the set of legislative amendments prepared by the government and approved in December 2010 by the parliament. New legislation requires courts to provide all their decisions upon request and publish their decisions on the internet.
Access to court decisions is not enough. If citizens can not understand from the court decisions why their claim was unsuccessful, their trust in courts is seriously undermined and their right to a fair trial is violated. Courts can be respected only if their decisions are based on the convincing and rational arguments. Therefore we focus our attention also on the quality of judicial/court decisions, and in April 2011 we prepared an analysis of the libel cases (in Slovak with English summary). We analyzed cases of public officials suing media and compared the approach of courts in Slovakia, the USA and the European Court of Human Rights. Currently we are working on analysis of the quality of court decisions' reasoning. Our analyses include also legislative recommendations.