Judicial independence

From Academic Kids

Judicial independence is the doctrine that decisions of the judiciary should be impartial and not subject to influence from the other branches of government or from private or political interests. In most cases, judicial independence is secured by giving judges long, and sometimes lifetime, tenure and making them not easily removable.

The federal government of the United States of America, for example, gives all members of the Supreme Court, and all members of district courts and appeals courts, lifetime tenure. Other federal judges get substantial terms, such as fifteen years for judges of bankruptcy courts.

Another prong of judicial independence is proper judicial selection. The American Bar Association, which advocates executive appointments of judges who have been cleared by screening committees (so-called "merit selection"), is at odds with many state legislatures which prefer election by the general public. The American Bar Association, and state bar associations generally, view judicial elections as rewarding political skills rather than legal skills.

The 2000 case of Bush v. Gore, in which the appointees of the first President Bush cast decisive votes that helped ensure the election of the second President Bush, is seen by many as reinforcing the need for judicial independence. This case has focused increased attention on judicial outcomes as opposed to the traditional focus on judicial qualifications.

In Britain, this aspect of the separation of powers is less clear-cut than in the US. The key factors that help to ensure judicial independence in the British system are:

Selection In order to try and promote the independence of the judiciary, the selection process is designed to minimise political interference. The process focuses on senior members of the judiciary rather than on politicians.

Pay & Rewards The pay of judges is determined by an independent pay review body. It will make recommendations to the government having taken evidence from a variety of sources. The government accepts these recommendations and will traditionally implement them fully.

Regulation The legal profession is a self regulating profession, i.e. it is responsible for its own professional standards and for dealing with those who fall short. In this case, the bodies are the Bar Council and the Law Society.

Security of Tenure As long as judges hold their positions in "good order", they remain in post until they wish to retire or until they reach 70.

Political Conventions There are two important conventions which help to preserve judicial independence.

  • Parliament does not comment on the cases which are before the court
  • Under a principle known as "Parliamentary Privilege", MPs are protected from prosecution in certain circumstances by the court.
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