International Bar Association (IBA) president David Rivkin has urged lawyers to intensify the fight against corruption in the the judiciary.
He spoke at a showcase session on judicial corruption during the IBA conference in Vienna, Austria.
According to him, corruption is often viewed as the biggest obstacle standing in the way of peace, stability and human rights.
He said corruption can be detrimental to an individual or organisation’s reputation and credibility.
Rivkin said when corruption has spread so far as to infect even the judicial system, then its fundamental role to be fair to all is compromised.
To him, a judge who has taken a bribe or has in any way obstructed the course to justice for any party, cannot be considered independent or impartial.
“The problem is worsened when the manipulation comes from a higher power, such as the government. This creates an environment which fosters further corruption.
“Objectivity and neutrality, the two most central principles to the rule of law itself, no longer exist and fundamental human rights are, by definition, violated.
“The IBA has a particular responsibility to combat judicial corruption. It can be effective in ways that others cannot.
“It has done a lot over the years in the wider fight, but we have not focussed on the government side before, and that’s especially important.
“With 55,000 individual members and 195 bar associations and law societies around the world, the IBA has a unique grasp on the global legal community,” he said.
He said the association is also making efforts to rid the judiciary of corruption globally.
In February, IBA launched the Judicial Integrity Initiative as one of the key priorities of Rivkin’s two-year tenure.
It has been working with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the Basel Institute of Governance and various other anticorruption committees.
In London in February and Singapore in March, the IBA organised a series of high-level discussions with prosecutors, civil society organisations, leading lawyers and business executives.
Rivkin said: “Other countries are also taking action in the fight against judicial corruption.
“Several Ghanaian judges at both high and lower court level, are being investigated over allegations of corruption.
“China’s Central Politics and Law Committee is set to relaunch a programme to recruit judges from the top ranks of lawyers and academics to improve its judicial system, which has been criticised in the past.
“The National Judicial Council (NJC) of Nigeria has taken severe action in recent years against those found guilty,” Rivkin said.
According to him, corruption in the judiciary is not limited to developing countries.
He said: “While manifestations of corruption seem to be most common in developing countries, judicial corruption remains a global problem.
“Research by the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC) suggests that causes of judicial corruption include low remuneration and far-reaching discretionary powers, twinned with weak monitoring of how those powers are executed.
“In these environments, where the accused individuals sit at the highest echelons of the system, whistle blowing is especially unlikely.
“The research also found that a lack of comprehensive and regularly updated computer systems is one of the main causes of such crimes.
“The IBA’s role is important in that it can, and must, set an example to its members which promotes the highest standard of judicial integrity.
“Alongside its Judicial Integrity Initiative, an additional objective of the IBA is maintaining the bar and the courts’ independence from the government.
“If corruption compromises judges, who are among our most important protectors of the rule of law, rule of law throughout society is put at risk,” Rivkin said.