NEW YORK (15 October 2020) – The UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Diego García-Sayán, presented a report to the UN General Assembly today on the disciplinary proceedings against judges for alleged misconduct in the exercise of their functions.
The report also examined “disguised” sanctions imposed on judges with the aim of intimidating, harassing or otherwise interfering with the professional activities of judges. García-Sayán’s report was based on 57 responses to a questionnaire issued in 2020.
“Disciplinary proceedings against judges must be carried out in accordance with certain basic principles aimed at safeguarding judicial independence, but sanctions can never be imposed on judges to harass, punish or otherwise interfere with the legitimate exercise of a judge’s professional activities,” he said.
García-Sayán said disciplinary proceedings against judges must be based on the rule of law and carried out in accordance with certain basic principles aimed at safeguarding judicial independence.
In the report, García-Sayán documented different kinds of “disguised” sanctions imposed on judges, ranging from “soft” forms of harassment, such as a move to a smaller office, to serious and continuous pressure or threats.
“Unlike the penalties imposed at the outcome of formal proceedings, disguised sanctions are not imposed in the cases provided for by law and/or in accordance with a regulated procedure,” he said. “Their aim is to induce a judge to dismiss the consideration of a case, to adjudicate a case in a particular way or to punish the judge for a decision taken in the exercise of the judicial function. Judges dealing with politically sensitive cases are particularly exposed to these sanctions.”
The report offers a series of recommendations to State authorities on ways to establish and implement clear procedures and objective criteria for dealing with professional misconduct by the judiciary.
García-Sayán also referred to the global pandemic and its impact on the independence of the justice systems. He expressed concern that this context “has facilitated the concentration of functions in the executive branch under the pretext of a more ‘efficient’ exercise of power, the sidelining of denunciations of violations of fundamental rights, or an attempt to neutralize any possibility of investigating denunciations of corruption regarding the extraordinary economic resources allocated to confront the pandemic”. He urged State to adopt appropriate measures to overcome the difficulties that COVID-19 has caused in the judicial sphere.
Mr. Diego García-Sayán took up his functions as UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers in December 2016. He was formerly a judge of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for two consecutive terms. During his tenure, he was elected Vice-President of the Court (2008-2009) and President of the Court for two consecutive terms (2009-2013). He has long-standing experience working on human rights issues in a variety of settings, including for the United Nations and the Organization of American States.
Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
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