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Rethinking Judicial Independence

Penelope Gibbs
29 Jul 2017

This is a collection of articles by different authors (including judges and magistrates) reflecting on whether the model of judicial independence operating in England and Wales is fit for purpose. The interpretation and disciplining of judicial independence are creating the following problems within the judiciary and magistracy and in the outside world:

  • Judges and magistrates are now less involved with criminal justice practitioners and agencies than ever before, banned from sitting on or even observing these committees for fear they may be accused of bias in the courtroom.
  • Despite a crying need for the judiciary to communicate to the public about their role, most judges are stopped, either actually or culturally, from speaking out. This fuels media and public distrust of the criminal justice system.
  • The judiciary disciplinary system is not transparent and is punitive. This exercises a chilling effect on judicial activity and activism.
  • There appear to be double standards operating as to what paid judges and magistrates can do, with the latter more strictly policed, despite their greater confidence in dealing with the outside world.
  • A lack of diversity in the judiciary is contributing to judges in lower courts and magistrates feeling a loss of judicial independence.
  • This invisible straightjacket of rules appear to be contributing to very low morale amongst the paid judiciary and the magistracy.

These are big problems that need big solutions. This report calls for a open conversation about the future of judicial independence, led by the judiciary but involving all interested citizens.