This piece was written by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s Global Judicial Integrity Network.
Transparency is fundamental for the judiciary to ensure the rule of law. It strengthens the authority of the judiciary, educates the public and promotes public confidence, which are aims found at the heart of the Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct.
However, many countries face a lack of public trust in judicial institutions, as there is often a distant relationship between the judiciary and society.
This can be remedied by judicial institutions reaching out to the public and informing citizens of the activities and procedures of the court. The judiciary can play a key role in promoting transparency by actively providing information to the public via the internet, educational institutions and other media.
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Judicial transparency not only refers to public access to the courts, but should also be understood as a proactive strategy. A proactive communication policy could be developed to convey the core values of the judiciary.
This could include bringing a selection of interesting court cases to the attention of the media, organising informal meetings with the national press, or promoting documentaries on the judiciary.
Judicial transparency should be understood as a proactive strategy
In Peru, for example, a project was designed to establish communication channels between the justice system and journalists, enabling the media to understand how the judiciary operates and the judiciary to better understand the work of the media.
In addition to the establishment of a communication strategy with the media, several good public outreach practices should be highlighted.
The organisation of a special day (or week) when all courts will be open to the public is one such practice. These special days could include, among other activities, the re-enactment of court hearings, talks by experienced members of staff, visits to different courtrooms and interactive workshops.
Moreover, the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary (ENCJ) recommends the development and use of a judicial spokesperson, who can be a communications professional, or a judge trained in communications, designated with the role of speaking on behalf of the judiciary.
Upholding the Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct while informing the public should not be an insurmountable obstacle. However, judges do need support to maintain these values. Targeted guidance should be provided via trainings focused on transparency and public communications, as well as social media use. The ENCJ also emphasises the importance of press guidelines for judges who are not official spokespeople. The guidelines should identify the limits for judges while letting the media know what to expect.
The UK has launched an initiative called “Judges in Schools’’
Another method to provide better access to the judicial system is to focus on online communications. For example, the Polish judiciary requires courts to maintain websites and organises a contest called “E-courts in a Polish way” to encourage online access to the courts.
In the Netherlands, one successful technique has been allowing the public to ask questions about the judiciary online.
The additional implementation of educational programs for schoolchildren and university students could help to inform the public more directly. These educational programs could include a description of the judiciary, visits to courts, and interactive activities, such as role-playing and attending hearings.
The United Kingdom has successfully launched an initiative called “Judges in Schools’’ which is aimed at increasing knowledge about the judiciary among children by bringing judges to the classroom.
Any judiciary can learn from the good practices cited above and can take the necessary steps to enhance communication between the judiciary, the press, and the public at large.
The Global Judicial Integrity Network encourages judiciaries to initiate dialogue with each other on good practices on community outreach and is ready to facilitate this dialogue. The Network welcomes further input as well on good practices judiciaries have implemented, so they can be disseminated broadly. — Global Judicial Integrity Network
(Picture credit: Flickr/Mark Skrobola)