Revised Code of Conduct for Judges, Magistrates to be launched soon
In November 2003, former Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Desiree Bernard launched the Judiciary’s first Code of Conduct for Judges and Magistrates in Guyana. The Code of Conduct still exists. However, present Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards has initiated a review of the Code of Conduct and a revised one will be launched soon.
This is according to High Court Judge Nareshwar Harnanan, who explained that the Code of Conduct contains principles and rules which all persons who administer justice are required to observe in their day-to-day relationship with the legal profession and the public.
According to him, “The revision will not change the fundamental principles contained in the 2003 version from which Judges and Magistrates continue to take guidance in the discharge of the functions of their office. The revision process seeks to improve upon this base to take into account certain advancements and commentaries on what is considered appropriate judicial conduct.”
Why a Code of Conduct?
But why have a Code of Conduct? Justice Harnanan explained that independence is essential for maintaining the rule of law and good governance in society. He, therefore, noted judicial officers must uphold the trust which is reposed in them to perform their duties fairly and objectively which will, in turn, enhance the public’s trust in the judicial system.
According to the High Court Judge, the Code of Conduct has adopted principles and rules from a document called the Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct which was drafted by representatives from judiciaries around the world in 2001. “It has been recognised to be an authentic international code of judicial conduct of wide application,” he noted.
The Code of Conduct for Judges and Magistrates in Guyana, he said, outlines the standard of ethical conduct of all judicial officers, in particular, key values by which a judicial officer is expected to live and work. They are propriety, independence, integrity, impartiality, equality and competence, and diligence.
“At all times, a judicial officer is expected to adhere to these principles as they go about their work and personal lives. While judicial officers understand and appreciate their mandate, no one can doubt the usefulness and utility in setting up guiding principles by which they are bound.”
Justice Harnanan further explained that independence means judicial officers performing their functions free from any influence, direction, or control of any entity or person – private or governmental – which includes the Executive and the Legislative.
“Impartiality means doing our jobs completely without favour or bias, not only in making the decisions but in the process by which the decision is made.”
According to him, judicial independence is of such public importance because a free society exists only so long as it is governed by the rule of law – the rule which binds governance and governs impartially and treating equally all those who seek its remedies or against who its remedies are sought.
He said that judicial officers must at all times perform their duties with integrity.
“Performing our duties with integrity underscores rectitude, righteousness, and honesty. It mandates that in the discharge of our duties we should always act honourably, be free from fraud, deceit, and falsehood and be of a good and virtuous character. This value is an absolute value; there is no degree of integrity. It is described as being more than a virtue; it is a necessity.”
With regards to propriety, the High Court Judge explained that what matters more is not what a Judge does or does not do, but what others think the Judge has done or might do.
For example, he said that a Judge who speaks privately and at length with a litigant in a pending case might appear to be giving that party an advantage, even if the conversation is completely unrelated to the pending case. “Because the public expects a high standard of conduct from a Judge, he or she might ask the question, how might this look in the eyes of the public?”
He noted that when an impression of impropriety is created it can have serious consequences of tainting the judicial process with a perception of corruption which may bleed all the way to the judicial officer. Such a stain when created, he noted, is difficult to remove and that is why the Code of Conduct urges judicial officers to conduct themselves with propriety.
Moreover, he stated that judicial officers must ensure equality of treatment to all court users. He added that is an essential element of fairness and impartiality.
“There is no differentiation between persons involved in a matter of discrimination against court users on any irrelevant ground. Our code of conduct obliges us to strive to be aware of, and to understand, diversity in society, and differences arising from various sources including but not limited to race, colour, gender, religion, creed, national origin, caste, disability, age, marital status, sexual orientation, social and economic status…”
Also, he informed that judicial officers must perform their functions with competence and diligence. “Competence requires legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness, and preparation. Diligence requires judicial officers to consider matters soberly, to decide impartially, and to act expeditiously. It includes striving for the impartial and even-handed application of the law and the prevention of the abuse of process.”
Complaints alleging misconduct by a judicial officer are made to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC). By virtue of Article 128 of the Constitution of Guyana, Judges are appointed by the President acting on the advice from the JSC. Magistrates, on the other hand, are appointed by the JSC.
Article 199 of the Constitution vests the power of disciplinary control over Magistrates and other legal officers in the JSC which is governed by rules made under the Constitution.
According to Justice Harnanan, all complaints of misconduct against a judicial officer must be sent to the secretary of the JSC. He said that the complaint must contain all the relevant evidence to support the claim.
“Thereafter, the complaint is treated by the JSC in accordance with its rules governing disciplinary proceedings. It must be noted that both the complainant and the judicial officer are allowed to set out their respective cases on which the JSC will deliberate.”
He explained that the complainant and the judicial officer can be represented by counsel and can call witnesses. “If the complaint is found to be unmeritorious, it is dismissed. If a case is made out that warrants disciplinary action, the JSC will write to the judicial officer setting out its findings and the penalty. Penalties may range from caution to dismissal.”
The judicial officer has the right to appeal the decision of the JSC to the High Court.