Disciplinary action against members of the judiciary was taken on just 42 occasions last year. The Judicial Conduct Investigations Office (JCIO) received 2,126 complaints in 2016/17, a drop of 18.5% on the previous year, according to the watchdog’s annual report.
Almost half of complaints related to judicial decisions or case management, and most were not related to misconduct.
More than 400 complaints related to inappropriate behaviour or comments, with a much smaller number for conflict of interest, criminal convictions and failing to meet sitting requirements.
Of the 42 cases where action was taken, 19 office-holders were removed (three judges, one tribunal judge and 15 magistrates) and eight were reprimanded. A further 15 were either given a warning or formal advice.
Of the 19 removals from office, 10 were dealt with under the summary process. This enables the lord chancellor and lord chief justice to consider removing an office holder from office without further investigation in a limited number of circumstances including criminal conviction, bankruptcy, failure to disclose information concerning suitability to hold office and failure to fulfil sitting requirements.
Stephanie Hack, joint head of the JCIO, said the low number of disciplinary actions – down from 75 two years ago – was a ‘testament to the high standards of conduct maintained by judicial office holders’.
The highest number of complaints (944) was made against judicial office-holders on the district bench. A further 590 complaints involved a member of the circuit bench, which 122 were made against High Court judges and others of a similar standing.
Apart from complaints not containing an allegation of misconduct, the most common reason for disposing of a complaint was that it was untrue, mistaken or misconceived.
Hack said a significant part of the organisation’s work was explaining to complainants they could not challenge the outcome of a case. She added that one challenge for the coming year is to promote understanding of its role within the judiciary and elsewhere.