Chief Justice of the Supreme Court: The explanation of the Judicial Ethics Commission will strengthen the self-government of judges
26 November, 2020
"It is highly positive that the Judicial Ethics Commission has unequivocally stated that the participation of judges in self-government is an integral part of the judge’s profession and that the performance of direct duties, namely, administering of justice may not be a justification for not participating in self-government elections. This will definitely strengthen both the self-government of judges and, consequently, the rule of law throughout the country,” Aigars Strupiss, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, welcomes the Judicial Ethics Commission's response to his request for an opinion on whether non-participation in the Judges’ Conference without a justifiable reason shall be considered a violation of the ethics code of a judge.
The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court also emphasizes that he is pleased that the Judicial Ethics Commission has pointed out certain possible shortcomings in the voting process, which he will address to the Court Administration with a proposal to assess them and, if necessary, eliminate them.
In its explanation, the Judicial Ethics Commission points out that participation in self-government, i.e. in the general meeting of judges or in individual self-government institutions is an integral part of the judge’s profession, which is deeply justified and derives from the essence of the judiciary. Having a true understanding and awareness of the meaning of their profession, a situation should not arise in which judges are unaware of the importance of judicial self-government and thus of their participation in it. If this is the case, then the question arises as to the lack of a true understanding of the skills and qualities required for the position of judge.
At the same time, the Commission emphasizes that participation in the Judges’ Conference, which holds elections, also depends on a procedure that can be improved to ensure that elections are conducted in a way that judges exercise their voting rights effectively and in accordance with general electoral principles.
In its explanation, the Judicial Ethics Commission acknowledges that the reasons for not participating in self-government elections or in elections of the Judicial Council can be both subjective and objective. There are basically two possible reasons: participation in a court hearing and not being acquainted with nominated candidates. The Commission considers that these reasons can be remedied. Judges have the opportunity to create their own agenda in such a way as to participate in the elections, to get acquainted with the nominated candidates before the election day and to vote electronically on the election day. Even if the judge has scheduled to hear the case on the day, the procedural laws do not restrict the judge from adjourning the hearing.
In turn, the procedure by which judges receive proper information about candidates and their opinions needs to be improved. The Commission considers that the procedure cannot be limited to a short description of the candidate's previous work experience, as this does not make it possible to form an opinion on the suitability of candidates. Among other things, the opportunity to ask questions is important.
The Commission also points to other ways to prevent passive participation, such as the introduction of abstentions in the voting procedure or voting against all candidates in the event that a judge does not wish to vote for any of the candidates. When considering the active involvement of judges in self-government, the possibility of limiting the powers of members of all self-government institutions for two consecutive terms might be considered. By ensuring compliance with the principle of secrecy, any doubt that the electronic voting may provide information on the choice made by each judge has to be excluded.
The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court applied to the Judicial Ethics Commission after the extramural conference of Latvian judges held in September which aimed at electing two members of the Judicial Council. Due to the low turnout of judges, it was necessary to organize a second round of elections. This raised questions about the effectiveness of judicial self-government.
Explanation of the Judicial Ethics Commission (in Latvian)
Information prepared by
Rasma Zvejniece, the Head of the Division of Communication of the Supreme Court
E-mail: email@example.com, telephone: +371 67020396, +371 28652211