Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Code of Conduct for the UNDT/UNAT Judges:
(UN GA Document # A/65/86 of 15 June 2010).
Unsurprisingly, it has taken a year or so to write/publish Code of Conduct for the judges working for the reformed UN Internal Justice system since it came into being on 1 July 2009. This code is now going to the General Assembly for a “routine” clearance.
The fact that the UN General Assembly consumed months and years (with the help of UN bureaucracy) to redesign and reform the UN internal justice system and pass the statutes and rules of procedures of the UN Tribunals (both for Disputes Tribunal and Appeals Tribunal), did not bother to lay down earlier than now the code of conduct for the judges in the context of the basic principles on the independence of the judiciary (endorsed by UNGA in 1985), nor did it describe the international standards for judiciary integrity. This should say something about the integrity of the whole reform exercise at the cost of global tax-payers. It should also say as to what extent the UN GA is beholden to the wishes of the executive bureaucracy!
This important task was left to the so called UN Internal Justice Council or Committee (UN IJC), again comprising of the same bureaucrats, staff representatives and other “experts” and friends. As we do not have the TOR of the UN IJC in this exercise, we cannot be certain of its influence or otherwise in the dispensation of justice.
Anyway, the bottom-line is this: we have now finally seen the code of conduct for the UNDT & UNAT judges. Maybe, the judges are going to enjoy total freedom to do whatever necessary as long as nothing goes too far to displease their bosses in the Secretariat.
Let us therefore place on record what should be the minimum standard to ensure the true professionalism, independence, accountability and integrity of the justice system (be it internal or external). In the opinion of the writer, there should be no fundamental differences between the so called internal or external justice system, if indeed “justice”, and not “judgement” is the goal of these noble efforts.
Among the various conferences, forums and committees world over who debated on the subject over decades, one can see that the European efforts to bring about international standards on the “independence and impartiality of justice” appear quite comprehensive and naturally consistent with the universal rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary endorsed by the UNGA as far back as 1985.
Among the many efforts, the writer finds the IFES Rule of Law White Paper Series (financed by the US Agency for International Development and edited by Keith Henderson), and the document titled “Independence and Impartiality of Justice” – International Standards – brought out 14 March 2008 by Justice Cristi Danilet of Romania (email: [email protected]) seem enlighteningly helpful in understanding the nature, principles and practice of justice in the present day world.
Global Best Practices
Judicial Integrity Standards and Consensus Principles
International and regional human rights treaties recognize the right to a fair trial by an independent tribunal in the determination of rights and obligations in civil, commercial and administrative matters and in the determination of criminal charges. The right to a fair trial and its core components, including the “reasonable time” requirement and the principle of judicial independence, is now universally accepted. Building upon the declarations of principle of legally binding conventions, international and regional expert guidelines and principles have aimed at fleshing out the specific elements of judicial independence. In addition, international and regional human rights courts and commissions have interpreted the provisions of human rights treaties and shed some light on the minimum standards and components of the right to a fair trial and judicial independence.
The US-Based IFES Rule of Law White Paper Series has synthesized these various efforts into a set of core, consensus principles and best practices that can be used to assess systematically the degree of independence of judiciaries worldwide: the Judicial Integrity Principles . In designing the JIP, IFES has chosen a broad definition of the notion of “judicial integrity”. This term covers a wide range of issues related to the independence and accountability of the judiciary, both the institution and the judges as individual decision-makers. IFES has chosen this broad definition of the notion of “judicial integrity” to emphasize the importance of balance the independence and accountability issues and to identify in a systematic way related reforms that need to be undertaken.
This core code of conduct aims to reinforce the general principles relating to the dispensation of justice, which inter alia are highlighted below.
- Judicial independence encompasses both the personal independence of an individual magistrate in reaching a decision in the courtroom, and the autonomy and collective independence of the judiciary from other branches of government.
- Judicial accountability and efficiency.
- Community trust and confidence.
- Impartiality – All persons coming to the court are entitled to fair and equitable treatment, regardless of their personal circumstances or legal situation.
- Personal integrity – Demonstrate the highest standards of personal integrity, honesty and truthfulness in all our professional and personal dealings, avoiding the misuse of court time, equipment, supplies, or facilities for personal use.
- Uphold the dignity of the court and promote respect for the courts duty to administer justice independently impartially according to the law.
- Devoting sufficient time and effort to ascertain the truth.
What took place was that the great talk shop called UNGA delegated the responsibility of drafting the code of conduct of the judges to the so called independent body UN Justice Council. Is this council independent of influence pedalling of the executive bureaucracy? How come it was all possible to draft the statutes and rules of procedures, but not the code of conduct of the judges including how these judges are to identified, selected, screened and cleared by a kind of an objective and impartial Screening Committee of the GA consisting of member states and none of UN bureaucracy? Here below, see what the UNGA official document says without any time-frame for the code of conduct of the judge to emerge.
UN GA Document # A/64/6 (Sect.1) of 29 April 2009 –
E. Office of Administration of Justice
In addition, the Office of Administration of Justice provides support to the Internal Justice Council, an independent body established by the General Assembly to identify suitable candidates to be recommended to the General Assembly for appointment as judges in the two new tribunals, to draft a code of conduct for the judges, and to provide its views to the General Assembly on the implementation of the new system of justice.
Final for Now
Now that we have the code of conduct of UNDT/UNAT judges (A/65/86 of 15 June 2010), waiting for UN General Assembly’s blessings, let me confine to one meaningful event witnessed by the writer on 22 June 2010 at Conference Room #10 at the North Lawn Building of the UN HQ during the public hearing of a common cause appeal by UN Retirees. This may be related to the “transparency” and “fairness in the conduct of proceedings” (items 5 # 6 of the Annex in the UN GA Document # A/65/86):
The uncooperative attitude of the Respondent (UN Pension Fund) failing to answer fully and comprehensively to the satisfaction of not only the Appellants but also the fact that the Honorable Tribunal did not insist upon the Respondent’s obligation to answer all the questions and challenges posed by the Appellants could not be described as “fairness in the conduct of proceedings” nor could it be termed as “the principle of open justice”. Basically, it was just a ritual or a formality of public hearing because the appellants requested for it. The result was the failure to disclose the “whole Truth” by the Respondent.
Furthermore, when the appellants raised their hands to draw the kind attention of the Honorable Justices and to obtain a Ruling on this open contempt, the learned Justices ignored to recognize us and closed the hearing, despite the fact that there were still twenty minutes of even the allotted 90 minutes. This may only be explained by sanctioning avoidance of duty by the Respondent, or in the least, a deliberate ignoring of that duty of the Respondent by the Honorable Judges.
Thus the incomplete hearing was accomplished without ascertaining the Whole Truth. It is therefore normal to believe that there is enough justification to question the fairness of the conduct of the proceedings in the context of OECD’s guidelines on judiciary impartiality and independence, and the global best practices for judicial integrity standards.
As the draft code of conduct talks about the “competence and diligence” requirements of the judges, why it is not possible to lay down the standards, norms and parameters by which the performance and suitability of the judges to be evaluated by an independent body consisting of competent member state representatives, not the usual bureaucrats of all shades and forms.
So long as the judiciary (internal, external or whatever) and the administration of justice are NOT totally disconnected from the UN bureaucracy and its remote control, the possibility of seeking real justice for the staff and those affected by the system can only remain as a distant dream.
- Global Best Practices – Judicial Integrity Standards and Consensus Principles – April 2004 – Edited by Keith Henderson
- Judiciary Handbook – The Kenyan Section of the International Commission of Jurists (Model Magistrates’ Code of Conduct)
- Independence and Impartiality of Justice – International Standards – 14 March 2008 – compiled by Cristi Danilet, Judge, Romania (email: [email protected])
- Asia Pacific Judicial Reform – Singapore Conference – January 2009
- The Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct by Param Cumaraswamy (former UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers)
- UN General Assembly Document # A/65/86 of 15 June 2010 – Code of Conduct for the Judges of the UNDT and UNAT – Report of the Internal Justice Council.
V. Muthuswami, Chennai
UN Retiree Activist Group striving for justice in UN.
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