Ethics and the International Judiciary

The success of international courts, like that of national courts, depends to a large extent upon the integrity of those who decide the cases that come before them. If judges carry out their function ethically, and are furthermore perceived to do so, the public will have confidence in judicial institutions and respect and abide by their decisions.

The establishment of public confidence is particularly essential for international courts, many of which are still young and remain unfamiliar to the average person. International courts may also suffer from a lack of support — both political and financial — on the part of states falling within their jurisdictions or belonging to the institutions that created the courts in the first place.

While notions of judicial ethics do not tend to vary much from the national to the international domain, international judges may face challenges rarely experienced by their national counterparts. Serving on a part-time basis — a common arrangement for international judges — poses the issue, for example, of what kind of secondary work is compatible with judicial duties. International benches also bring together judges from different legal traditions, which may have disparate views on various kinds of courtroom behavior. The diversity of the international judiciary thus requires that special attention be paid to judicial behavior and its perception.

Given the importance of ethical behavior to the international judiciary, the center has accorded a central place to its exploration in the various programs it designs for this professional group. Each Brandeis Institute for International Judges devoted a lengthy session to topics touching upon judicial independence, impartiality, conflicts of interest and other relevant issues.

These sessions were often characterized by lively debate, as judges attempted to define and agree upon their own duties and responsibilities. Each “topic in ethical practice” has been highlighted in the BIIJ reports that summarize institute proceedings.

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