Judicial Independence: Importance of Judicial Independence?

It is vitally important in a democracy that individual judges and the judiciary as a whole are impartial and independent of all external pressures and of each other so that those who appear before them and the wider public can have confidence that their cases will be decided fairly and in accordance with the law.
When carrying out their judicial function they must be free of any improper influence. Such influence could come from any number of sources. It could arise from improper pressure by the executive or the legislature, by individual litigants, particular pressure groups, the media, self-interest or other judges, in particular, more senior judges.

Why is Judicial Independence important?

It is vital that each judge is able to decide cases solely on the evidence presented in court by the parties and in accordance with the law. Only relevant facts and law should form the basis of a judge’s decision. Only in this way can judges discharge their constitutional responsibility to provide fair and impartial justice.
The responsibilities of judges in disputes between the citizen and the state have increased together with the growth in governmental functions over the last century.
The responsibility of the judiciary to protect citizens against unlawful acts of government has thus increased and with it the need for the judiciary to be independent of government.
Independence and the appearance of independence.
As well as in fact being independent in this way, it is of vital importance that judges are seen to be both independent and impartial. Justice must not only be done – it must be seen to be done.

Ways in which independence is protected and its limits.

Whilst an independent and impartial judiciary is one of the cornerstones of a democracy, the practical ways in which this is given effect are often treated with suspicion.
For example, judges are given immunity from prosecution for any acts they carry out in the performance of their judicial function. They also benefit from immunity from being sued for defamation for the things they say about parties or witnesses in the course of hearing cases. These principles have led some people to suggest that Judges are somehow ‘above the law’.
Judicial independence does, however, mean that judges must be free to exercise their judicial powers without interference from litigants, the State, the media or powerful individuals or entities, such as large companies. This is an important principle because judges often decide matters between the citizen and the state and between citizens and powerful entities.
For example, it is clearly inappropriate for the judge in charge of a criminal trial against an individual citizen to be influenced by the state. It would be unacceptable for the judge to come under pressure to admit or not admit certain evidence, Decisions must be made on the basis of the facts of the case and the law alone.

Judicial independence is important whether the judge is dealing with a civil or a criminal case.

Individuals involved in any kind of case before the courts need to be sure that the judge dealing with their case cannot be influenced by an outside party or by the judge’s own personal interests, such as a fear of being sued for defamation by litigants about whom the judge is required in the course of proceedings or judgment to make an adverse comment.
This requirement that judges be free from any improper influence also underpins the duty placed on them to declare personal interests in any case before it starts, to ensure that there is neither any bias nor partiality or any appearance of such.
A practical example of the importance of judicial independence is where a high profile matter, which has generated a great deal of media interest comes before the court. Such matters range from the criminal trial of a person accused of a shocking murder, the divorce of celebrities, and challenges to the legality of government policy, In the 24-hour media age in which we live, it stands to reason that the judge hearing the case will often be under intense scrutiny, with decisions open to intense debate. It is right that this is so. But it is important that decisions in the courts are made in accordance with the law and are not influenced by such external factors.

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