The constitutional doctrine of the independence of the judiciary is one of the key pillars of a functional judiciary. However, this has been used by most judges and judiciary officers a means to escape accountability for their actions and decisions. They hide behind the confines of judicial independence thus making biased decision premised upon irrelevant matters.
Therefore, it was surprising to see that judges and judicial officers are subject to administrative oversight and accountability. What is even more encouraging is the fact that judicial officers are urged to conduct their business in an ethical and legal manner. In addition they are required to make proper use of public funds. In most jurisdictions, the salaries of these officers are usually drawn from the consolidated funds which are rarely reviewed. They are also allocated a lot of taxpayers’ resources to ensure that they carry their duties effectively. This has made it possible for unscrupulous judicial officers to misuse these resources. Moreover, judges are held liable for actions committed when they are carrying out their duties. This has made it possible for some judges to act in bad faith.
It was, therefore, exciting and surprising to cognize that judges of the federal judiciary have affirmed a strategic plan that will spearhead reforms in the judiciary. This plan is premised upon six cardinal values. Checks and balances have also been introduced in order to avert arbitrariness which can easily lead to abuse of powers. It is vital to have checks and balances because they will facilitate the principle of accountability in the United States government, and in particular the judiciary. Mechanism have been introduced to facilitate complaint and dispute resolutions are handled amicable and effectively. Such processes entail having a functional auditing and evaluation mechanism. Interestingly, the strategic plan also encompasses a design to submit not only bodies that carry out judicial review proceedings, but also judicial operation which undermine the rules of procedural fairness or natural justice.
More importantly, is the fact that all judicial officers in the federal code have subscribed and submitted to the prescribed code of conduct that is supposed to govern their behavior. This is a rare phenomenon. Usually, judges are excluded from such undertaking because they have taken an oath of office to protect and uphold the constitution. If a judge has engaged in conduct that is inappropriate or prejudicial, he or she will be investigated and the administration will take appropriate measure to correct this deficiency.
It has never occurred to this author that judicial officers and specifically judges will be placed under such a high standard of conduct in carrying out the judicial function. This is despite the respect of the underlying principles propagated by the doctrine of judicial independence. However, it is extremely vital to strike a working balance between these critical principles. While there is a need to appreciate the value enhanced by having judicial accountability, this should not be taken or interpreted to mean interference of the judicial function by other organs of the government or the public. A judge should be given amble time, space and discretion to effectively discharge their duties.
Federal Courts. http://www.uscourts.gov/. 2013. http://www.uscourts.gov/FederalCourts/UnderstandingtheFederalCourts/administrative-oversight-accountability.aspx (accessed July 03, 2013).
Shetreet, Shimon , and Christopher Forsyth. The Culture of Judicial Independence: Conceptual Foundations and Practical Challenges. New York: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2011.