Nearly half of UK judges do not believe the government respects the independence of the judiciary, a Europe-wide benchmarking study suggests.
Responding to the statement 'During the past two years I believe my independence as a judge has been respected by the government', 42.7% of UK judges 'disagreed or strongly disagreed'. This was well behind Poland's figure of 73.6% - but compared poorly with Sweden's 3%.
The survey is the second report on the Independence, Accountability and Quality of the Judiciary carried out by the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary (ENCJ). It was published on the day that the new lord chancellor David Lidington spoke of the need for a 'strong and independent judiciary'.
The good news from the survey is that the UK (comprising the judiciaries of England and Wales plus Scotland) was one of only seven countries where 'nearly all judges are sure that no bribes are accepted'.
However the UK was not immune from what the report identifies as 'a number of worrying trends... that need to be addressed'. One was the number of judges saying that over the past two years that they had 'been under inappropriate pressure to take a decision... in a specific way.' The UK figure was 5.3%; pressure was most likely to come from 'court management', 'government' and 'other judges'.
Another worrying trend is the perception that judges are appointed or promoted on the basis of factors other than ability. In Spain, 64.3% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that judges had been appointed other than on the basis of ability and experience in the past two years; in the UK the figure was 17.8%.
Media attacks on judges’ decisions are another concern. However only 5.4% of UK judges believed that over the past two years decisions had been inappropriately influenced by the media. The influence of social media ‘is increasing in nearly all countries’, the report notes.
On corruption, the report states that three categories of judiciary can be distinguished. In the first, nearly all judges are sure that no bribes are accepted; in the second, fewer than 4% believe bribes are accepted - but 10-20% are 'not sure'. The third category is where more than 4% believe bribes are accepted; 40% of the judiciaries surveyed fell into this category.
’The fact that judges are uncertain about the occurrence of bribery is a bad sign in itself,' the report states. 'On the positive side: when judges believe that bribery occurs, they seldom expect this to happen regularly.’
When asked what would contribute most to judicial independence in their country, responses were ’very consistent’, the report states. 'Better working conditions regarding workload’ was mentioned most frequently, followed by pay, including pensions, with ’appointment and promotion based on ability and experience’ coming third.
The survey, conducted at the end of 2016, received responses from 11,712 judges from 26 European judiciaries.