Personal misconduct

The executive should operate an independent Board of Judicial Standards responsible for investigating complaints of judicial personal misconduct. The board should consist of sitting judges, retired judges, and lay members of good standing and repute. The board should investigate complaints brought by members of the public, or the government, and decide whether there is a case to answer. If there is a case to answer, then the board should formulate the charge and act as prosecutor. The case should be heard before the jurisdiction’s appeal court sitting en banc, which should have the power to discipline the judge, including removal from office.

The executive branch should also operate an office charged with detecting personal misconduct. When personal misconduct is discovered, that office should bring a complaint to the Board of Judicial Standards. If breaches of criminal law are involved, the office should refer the matter to the police. If the Board of Judicial Standards declines to prosecute, the executive should have standing to do so directly, as a check on the board. If the executive is unable to secure the removal of a judge for personal misconduct through the courts, it should have the power to refer the matter to the lower house of the legislature for impeachment.

Jurisprudential waywardness

The executive should operate a separate office charged with detecting jurisprudential waywardness. Upon detection, that office should bring a complaint to the jurisdiction’s appeal court sitting en banc. If the appeal court determines that the judge has willfully refused to apply the hierarchy of laws, binding precedent, legislation, or the constitution, or alternatively, that his jurisprudence is below the standard expected of a judge, then it should have the power to dismiss that judge. This procedure should be used unsparingly in order to maintain standards.

A trial judge who is consistently overturned upon appeal is breaching his trust by failing to apply precedent. It is false propriety for such conduct to be permitted in the name of judicial independence. If an appeals court is qualified to strike down a trial judge’s decisions, then it should also have the power to remove him. Otherwise litigants will suffer unnecessary expense, because there is no other remedy for enforcing hierarchical discipline other than by bringing appeals.

This article is an extract from the book ‘Principles of Good Government’ by Matthew Bransgrove