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What is Judicial Conduct?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 17 November 2016
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Judicial conduct is the legal or advised standard of behavior for judges. In order for citizens to have faith and trust in the judicial system and thus the rule of law, it is important for judges to reflect a standard of honesty and impartiality. Requirements for judicial conduct are often based on written codes of ethics and practices, and may vary between regions.

Generally, the standards of judicial conduct try to ensure that judges cannot be seen as hypocritical, partial, or incompetent. While these standards may seem obvious, most judicial bodies see fit to enshrine them in a judicial conduct code, together with appropriate penalties for violations. A judicial conduct code serves two primary functions: it allows the public and judges to know what standards are expected, and lets both parties know the extent and impact of consequences for failure to adhere.

One of the most basic standards of judicial conduct is adherence to all laws. A judge that breaks the laws him or herself cannot be trusted to fairly impart judgment on other lawbreakers; allowing a law-breaking judge to pass judgment can be seen as hypocritical. According to some codes, judges who break laws may be subject to suspension or even removal from their position, depending on the circumstances. Not all lawbreaking, however, results in mandatory discipline; a judge who gets a parking ticket is unlikely to be thrown off the bench.

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Another common concern in judicial conduct is the appearance of impartiality. Judges are usually discouraged from taking part in political debates, appearing on news or talk shows in defense or opposition of an issue, or running for political office. In the United States and many other countries, the judicial branch is meant to be a check on legislative or executive power; expressly admitting to a political position can be interpreted as a threat to the independence of the judicial branch. While judges aren't banned from personal political beliefs or the right to vote, public political involvement is usually discouraged.

Some codes of judicial conduct emphasize the importance of the office over personal or collegiate interests. In many jurisdictions, using the office as a means to influence others or receive boons is seen as very close to permitting bribes, and is heavily discouraged. Likewise, judges are usually required by judicial conduct agreements to report any evidence of misbehavior on the part of other judges, lawyers, and court officials. This type of statute tries to ensure that an individual judge remains subservient to the judicial system of laws.

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