The work of judges is of utmost importance to a free and fair society.
It is often said that the judiciary is the last line of defence against encroachment on rights and freedoms under the law.
And it is undeniably true that an independent and impartial judiciary is the bedrock of democracy and the rule of law.
These days, judges and the judgements they write are rarely out of the news. What they decide often excites happiness and anger in equal measure. Judges are only accountable to the Constitution and should not deliver judgements to please anyone. They must absorb condemnation and praise with grace and humility.
The lifeblood of any judiciary is the confidence and trust the public repose in it. Oagile Bethuel Key Dingake’s Judges book highlights judicial values that are essential for earning and retaining such public confidence in the judiciary.
In 2001, the Judicial Integrity Group met in Bangalore, India and agreed on a set of core values. These values, now commonly referred to as ‘Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct’, include independence, impartiality, integrity, propriety, equality, competence and diligence.
Two years later, in 2003, the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) endorsed the above principles, considered amongst common and civil law jurisdictions as the authoritative statement on the values that should inform judicial conduct.
In an era where simplicity and brevity often eludes legal literature, Judge Dingake writes with refreshingly clear language and the book is free of jargon. It is also not cluttered with references nor footnotes. This simplicity of style does not, however, oversimplify the subject.
The book is rich with the years of experience of its author, traversing wide-ranging topics of daily interest to judges such as fact-finding, accountability, judgement-writing, judicial case management and sentencing. Judge Dingake includes many invaluable practical tips on how judges should approach their work, such as the following critical ones:
That a judge should serve with humility. That a judge’s primary role is to preside and should not be chased from the judgement seat without justifiable cause. That a judge’s role is to keep the ring and not to enter the fight.
That whilst a presiding judge may discuss legal principles in particular factual settings, in general terms, the ultimate duty to decide lies with the presiding judge.
That a trial is not an opportunity to demean the dignity of any person. That judges should always be alive to the possibility of subconscious bias. I am confident that this book will be extremely useful to judges, lawyers, law students, scholars, political scientists and members of the public who are interested in how judges approach their work, their guiding values and principles and the decisional tools they employ. It will particularly fascinate lawyers who may be interested in the judicial process from a jurisprudential perspective.
We have in this book, an articulation of the fundamental principles that must guide modern judiciaries of all nations; a book of immense value to the general public and all those concerned with nurturing and building judiciaries of unimpeachable integrity.
It should be required reading for all judges across all jurisdictions and I also highly recommend it to members of the public who are interested in gaining a true understanding of the role of judges and judging in modern society.
*Professor Elizabeth Crawford Spencer is a Dean in the College of Business, Law and Governance at James Cook University in Townsville, Australia.