Courts under water in India and Kenya

I have previously documented recent threats to the proper functioning of the court systems of India and Kenya. In India, appalling delays and overflowing dockets, combined with strife at the highest levels of the judiciary, have undermined with the effectiveness of the system and overall public confidence. Now, unfortunately, related news has been announced: the country’s lower courts face almost 6,000 judicial vacancies. Even for a country of more than one billion people, that number is shocking.

Kenya has faced a different set of challenges in recent months, after its Supreme Court invalidated a presidential election and was subjected to ongoing threats and attacks. This week’s news is of a less violent sort, but one that is perhaps even more problematic for the judiciary: more than 50,000 cases in the court system have been pending for a decade or more. And the total case backlog stands at more than 315,000.

These stories keenly illustrate the idea of judicial interdependence: courts must operate fairly and efficiently to earn public confidence, and they need adequate resources to be able to do so. When courts are properly resourced and properly run, they earn confidence and more resources–a virtuous circle. But when they are poorly run or under attack, they become inefficient and lose both resources and legitimacy–a vicious circle. The Kenyan and Indian judiciaries are locked into the vicious circle right now.


Nigeria’s top anti-corruption judge charged with corruption

Oh, dear.  From the Deutsche Welle story:

Nigeria’s top anti-corruption judge, tasked with high-profile cases, has himself been charged with illegally accepting money. The country’s anti-graft body accused Danladi Umar of demanding a bribe from a suspect.

Judge Danladi Umar allegedly demanded 10 million nairas (€22,300; $27,800)  from a suspect “for a favor to be afterward shown to him concerning the pending charge,” according to court papers seen by various news outlets.

The embattled Umar, who is the head of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), was also alleged to have received, through the intermediary of his assistant, the sum of 1.8 million nairas from the same accused in 2012 “in connection with the pending case before him.”


Nigerians reacted angrily at the news of the corruption charges against one of the country’s top judges.

“I’m not surprised about the corruption allegations against Danladi Umar. Corruption is like a tradition in the judiciary system,” Mayowa Adebola, a resident in Lagos, told DW. “You don’t have any reason to doubt corruption in the Code of Conduct Tribunal given their records, even though they have tried several high-profile corruption cases in the past,” he added.

Another resident, Yomi Olagoke, said, “The allegations against Umar are quite serious, and it boils down to how our anti-corruption bodies are set up and run,” adding that for many Nigerians, holding an anti-corruption post was an opportunity to make money.


Head of Poland’s top judicial body claims new rules are unconstitutional, resigns in protest

Poland’s ruling party, the Law and Justice Party (PiS), recently implemented new rules that place judicial selection and retention in the hands of the legislature. The new rules are part of a larger set of deeply controversial set of judicial reforms that have virtually ostracized Poland from the rest of the European Union.

Now the head of the National Council on the Judiciary, Poland’s top judicial body, has resigned his position to protest the new rules, claiming that they violate the country’s constitution and infringe upon judicial independence. It is an important move, albeit a symbolic one, since the PiS has a dominant majority in the legislature and shows no signs of slowing its reform agenda.

Hong Kong magistrate endures racial slurs after sentencing politician for baton attack

Hong Kong magistrate Bina Chainrai sentenced a local politician to three months in prison for hitting a pedestrian with a baton during pro-democracy protests in 2014. Dozens of supporters of the politician responded after the sentencing by hurling insults and racial epithets at Magistrate Chainrai. On Wednesday, several members of the Hong Kong bar condemned the slurs and pledged support for an independent judiciary.

The tone of the condemnations, however, struck me as a bit odd. One group stated, “Any attack on judges for reasons unconnected to their decisions, irrespective of their nationality, sex or other personal attributes that they possess, are wholly unacceptable and must be strongly condemned.” Another said that “personal attacks on a judge for reasons unrelated to the judgment is an attack on Hong Kong’s judicial independence.”

I have added emphasis to both statements to make the problem clear. Personal attacks on a judge are plainly unacceptable when they are based on the judge’s race, gender, nationality, and so on. But equally inappropriate–at least from the American point of view–are personal attacks on a judge based on the substance of the judge’s opinion. It is fine to challenge a judge’s reasoning, or suggest that the opinion will lead to bad policy, but ad hominem attacks are never acceptable.

The United States is struggling through its own crisis of civility these days. The President has issued crude tweets about judges on several occasions. Some self-styled progressives cheered when Justice Antonin Scalia died in 2016. And a small cadre of academics are even trying to suggest that basic civility is a racist construct.

It’s sad to see the same problem infecting Hong Kong. Norms of civility must go hand in hand with the rule of law, in every nation and in every era. Critique judicial decisions, yes, but leave the personal attacks at home.


Irish judges: lack of pay raise could constitute gender discrimination

The Association of Judges in Ireland, the representative body for that country’s judges, has requested that the government restore judicial salaries to pre-financial crisis levels. New judicial appointees currently earn less than judges on the same court who were appointed before 2011.

In a questionable twist, however, the Association has argued that maintaining the lower salaries for new judges could constitute “indirect gender discrimination” because recent appointees include more women than before.

Come on. It’s hard to imagine why the Association would take such a specious position, especially with much more plausible arguments available. Ireland may not constitutionally protect judicial salaries, but surely the better case is that external control over judges’ pay wreaks havoc on judicial independence. Moreover, as the Association itself pointed out, similar discrepancies in teacher and health care worker pay were being addressed, leaving judges on the outside looking in.

Judges are naturally aware that their complaints about salary and benefits can sound elitist, especially when the even a “low” salary is well into six figures. But trying to invoke the specter of discrimination here is wildly counterproductive.

Muslim judge on the short list for appointment to Israel’s Supreme Court

Israel’s Judicial Selection Committee reportedly is strongly considering Khaled Kabub, currently a district judge in Tel Aviv, for appointment to the country’s Supreme Court. If appointed to an open poisiton this coming February, Judge Kabub would be the first Muslim to sit on the court in a permanent capacity.

The Selection Committee includes (among others) current members of the Supreme Court, the country’s Justice Minister, and representatives of the Israel Bar Association. It is the bar association that is reportedly pushing Kabub’s candidacy. The choice is interesting not only because of Kabub’s religion, but because of his current position: he would be replacing Justice Yoram Danziger, who came to the court from the private sector, and there had been a general understanding that Danziger’s replacement would also be a private attorney. The bar association, however, has argued that it is important for the Court to reflect all segments of Israeli society, and the appointment of a Muslim judge would advance that cause.