Maldives judiciary suspends 56 lawyers without a hearing after they file a petition critical of the courts

Judicial authorities in the Maldives have suspended the licenses of 56 attorneys who signed a petition accusing the courts up not upholding the rule of law.  The attorneys charged the courts with hasty, closed-door decisions in cases involving opposition officials in the government, among other accusations of politicization.

The 56 suspended lawyers amount to more than one-third of all attorneys on the island nation.

Much more detail here.



Ontario judge who wore MAGA hat into his courtroom receives 30-day suspension without pay; did the Ontario Judicial Council overreact?

The Ontario Judicial Council has issued its disciplinary opinion regarding Justice Bernd Zabel, the Hamilton-based trial judge who wore a red “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” baseball hat into his courtroom on the day after the U.S. presidential election last November. The hat, of course, is associated with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. It is uncontested that Judge Zabel wore the hat into his courtroom, stated “Just in celebration of a historic night in the United States,” and then removed the hat, placing it on the dais with the MAGA phrase visible to all in the courtroom. He presided over about ten matters before taking a recess, at which point he removed the hat from the courtroom. The hat did not return after the recess.

Unsurprisingly, Judge Zabel’s behavior spurred sharp reactions, including 81 formal complaints from a variety of public interest organizations, lawyers, and law professors. (I informally critiqued his actions on this blog as well; see link above.)  Interestingly, however, none of the formal complaints came from any lawyers or parties before Judge Zabel that day. Indeed, lawyers in the courtroom that day, and those who have appeared before Judge Zabel in the past, defended his overall judgment and integrity even as they classified the events of that morning to be a professional mistake.

Judge Zabel, too, quickly realized his error. After the Globe and Mail ran a story about the incident two days later, the judge made a public apology in his courtroom.  He explained that he was trying to make a humorous gesture, that in retrospect it was entirely inappropriate, and that he sincerely regretted the decision. Later, Judge Zabel sought out private lessons on judicial ethics from another member of the bench.

The judge’s contrition notwithstanding, the Hearing Panel of the Ontario Judicial Council on Monday suspended Judge Zabel for 30 days without pay. This was the most severe sanction they could issue, short of removing the judge from office. In my view, it was too harsh a sanction, supported by surprisingly slipshod reasoning.  More below.

Continue reading “Ontario judge who wore MAGA hat into his courtroom receives 30-day suspension without pay; did the Ontario Judicial Council overreact?”

Israeli Supreme Court gets new president

Justice Esther Hayut was unanimously elected to the position by the country’s Judicial Appointments Committee.  The vote appears to have been pretty pro forma, in that the position traditionally goes to the longest serving justice.  But the unanimity of voting members also masks some tension between Israel’s right-leaning and centrist parties over the composition of the Supreme Court.  The Times of Israel has a fuller explanation.

Supreme Court concludes hacking occurred, orders new presidential election

In Kenya, that is.

“A declaration is hereby issued that the presidential election held on August 8 was not conducted in accordance to the constitution and applicable law, rendering the results invalid, null and void,” said Judge David Maraga, announcing the verdict of four out of the court’s six judges.

The electoral board “failed, neglected or refused to conduct the elections in accordance with the constitution,” Maraga added. Two of the court’s judges dissented with the verdict, saying the will of the people should not be nullified due to challenges that arose during the electoral process.

New elections must take place within 60 days, according to the ruling.

This is a remarkable display of judicial independence, unprecedented in Africa.  And it appears that everyone will abide by the order peacefully.  At the same time, however, President Uhuru Kenyatta has lashed out at the judiciary, promising to “fix” the judicial system should he win the revote.

Stay tuned.

Judicial independence under threat in Poland, Romania, Palestinian Authority

In Europe and the Middle East, several governments are taking authoritarian approaches to their judiciary, largely by creating frameworks under which judges can be removed or punished by other members of popularly elected branches.  A few updates after the jump. Continue reading “Judicial independence under threat in Poland, Romania, Palestinian Authority”

Judicial independence still under siege in Poland

Although President Andrzej Duda vetoed two legislative proposals last month that would have severely weakened the independence of the Polish judiciary, he did sign a third bill that gave the country’s Justice Minister the power to remove and replace the heads of the lower courts.  That law went into effect this week, and the results are not promising.

The German media site Deutsche Welle reports on district judge Waldemar Zurek, a spokesman for Poland’s National Council for the Judiciary, who has been personally investigated by prosecutors on very flimsy grounds.  According to the story, Zurek

fears his computer will be seized for the information and contacts it contains. “They’ve already looked at my phone records – without my permission,” he said, which Polish law allows. The threatening letters were just a pretext to monitor him, Zurek said.

Zurek states in the story that he assumes his public stance in favor of judicial independence will cost him his job soon.  Will the Polish people stand for it?

Scotland faces crisis in recruiting new judges

From Scottish Legal News:

Less than a month after a warning by Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, that the English legal system was facing a ‘ticking time bomb’ in its failure to recruit judges, Scottish Legal News can reveal that Scotland too is facing such a crisis with top quality candidates spurning elevation to the bench.

Our enquiries among leading QCs found that most had no appetite to become judges citing hostile media coverage, lack of respect for the judiciary, relatively modest pay and pension packages, a backlog of distressing child sex abuse cases and concerns over judicial independence as well as the isolation and strenuous work load.

When incentives to enter a profession drop, the number of people seeking that profession drop as well.