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Guyana's first official Code of Conduct for judges and magistrates was formally presented by Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Desiree Bernard, at a brief ceremony held at the Georgetown Club yesterday afternoon.
"A judge shall refrain from membership of political parties, political fund-raising, attendance at political gatherings and political fund-raising events, contributing to political parties or campaigns and taking part publicly in controversial discussions of a partisan political character," is among the first directives in the edict.
The principles and rules contained in the proclamation were compiled by Chancellor Bernard after extensive consultation with local, regional and international legal authorities.
The code seeks to prevent corruption and to foster public confidence in the judicial system and unequivocally forbids the acceptance of "any gift, bequest, loan or favour in relation to anything done or to be done or omitted to be done by the judge (or magistrate) in connection with the performance of judicial duties."
In her opening remarks, Chancellor Bernard noted: "An independent and impartial judiciary is the bulwark of any democracy, and as such those who administer justice must honour the oath taken on assumption of office - to dispense justice without fear or favour, affection or ill will."
She said there is a growing need at the international level for judiciaries to establish codes of conduct in order to curtail the frequent incidents of disrespect toward persons who hold high office. Guyana's code is as a result of her recent participation at a conference in Cyprus on corruption, and perusal of the Eastern Caribbean and American codes of conduct.
Chief Justice Carl Singh opined that while the Chancellor's initiative was undoubtedly commendable, it was the responsibility of the judges and magistrates to ensure that their conduct can sustain scrutiny and did not detract from the dignity of their office. "We do not need a code of conduct to tell us [to refrain] from dragging down one's self in a liquor restaurant."
He asserted that all judges and magistrates should know that once they attained such office, it was imperative that they remained aloof from any outside interests or influences, which have the potential to taint their professional reputation. He expressed the hope that the principles and rules adopted in the code of conduct, which has been in the making since 2001, will be employed in a practical manner by those for whom they are meant.
The code of conduct includes seven values: propriety, independence, integrity, impartiality, equality, competence and diligence and accountability.
It asserts that "A judge shall strive to be aware of, and to understand, diversity in society and differences arising from various sources, including but not limited to race, colour, gender, religion, creed, national origin, caste, disability, age, marital status, sexual orientation, social and economic status and other like causes."
Other issues addressed in the code of conduct include the requirement of remaining up to date with amendments to the constitution, attitude to and participation in business for profit and approach(es) in handling matters which can compromise the judges' or magistrates' impartiality.
Attorney-General (AG) Doodnauth Singh lauded the code of conduct but pointed out that "the public should know what process exists for registering complaints about judicial misconduct."
According to the AG, the media and the judiciary's relationship with the media also have a vital part to play in fostering a climate of confidence. He pointed out that although relatively few persons see and hear for themselves what takes place in the court and while most are unable to understand the workings of the court, almost everyone has an opinion of what takes place in the court.
In reference to financial corruption, he quoted from the findings detailed in a summary report on the International Judicial Conference in 2000 which took place in San Francisco, California.
"...Judicial corruption can take many forms, and the most recurring incident is that of financial inducement of a judge (or magistrate) in exchange for a desired legal outcome. Judges may also be threatened with harm."
He said that participants at this conference suggested two means of preventing all types of corruption - strengthening the independence of the courts and decreasing the vulnerability of the judges.
"An independent judiciary is less susceptible to systemic corruption, and a judiciary may equip its members with the tools necessary to resist graft by providing an adequate salary, adopting and enforcing a judicial code of ethics, and recruiting judges with the character to resist temptation and coercion," he added.
The code of conduct also has provisions for part-time judges or magistrates and was published with assistance from the Carter Centre.