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Our View: Judges should be just as accountable as any public officials

Judges with the president on Thursday night

ALL THE main players in the recent controversy surrounding the supreme court attended the House institutions committee meeting on Wednesday. The president of the Supreme Court, the attorney-general, the minister of justice, the president of the Bar Association and the lawyer who sparked the controversy with his accusations were all present, but nothing new was said, all repeating their well-known positions while lamenting the blow dealt to the trustworthiness of the judicial system, by the claims and counter-claims of the last few weeks.

One thing everyone seemed to agree on was touched by the president of the Bar Association Doros Ioannides who categorically said: “There is no corruption in justice.” He felt obliged to say this because this was the message being given by social media, journalists and members of the public and the mistaken impression given was that judges “were on the take”. Not even the people that made the accusations spoke about “real corruption of members of the judiciary, in the strict sense of the word,” said Attorney-general Costas Clerides.

We will not go into what constitutes real corruption or its different gradations, yet it is difficult to argue there was no corruption in view of the allegations. Perhaps it was a low-level corruption – nobody suggested or implied there was bribery involved – if there was any, but this also undermines the trustworthiness of the judiciary in people’s eyes. That they were following the law in not recusing themselves from cases in which the employer of their offspring was the attorney representing the defendants did not exactly give the impression that the court was impartial.

The government has prepared nine bills for the reform of the judicial system. These were in the pipeline before the latest controversy, the government having commissioned Irish experts to advise how to how to reform the ailing judicial system. The Supreme Court will be broken up into two and an appeal court will also be set up. The Judicial Council that supervised the judges and was made up of supreme court judges will now include district court judges, the attorney-general and a representative of the Bar Association. The idea is to limit the powers of the supreme court judges.

Whether these reforms that will be in place by next year, combined with the tightening of the law on recusals, will restore the trustworthiness and the standing of the judiciary after the events of the last few weeks remains to be seen. What would help things is the judges showing a little less arrogance and gave up the belief that they were above questioning by the public. They should be as accountable for their decisions and actions as all public officials.

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