Bribery and undue political influence are the two most frequently reported forms of corruption observed in judicial systems, according to a global survey by the International Bar Association (IBA), in partnership with the Basel Institute on Governance.
The survey is part of the IBA Judicial Integrity Initiative (JII), a project launched by IBA President David Rivkin in January 2015 aimed at combating judicial corruption. Undertaken to identify the patterns underlying corrupt behaviour in the judiciary, the survey involved 1 577 legal professionals from 120 countries. It aimed to provide the JII with a clear picture of the types of corruption affecting judicial systems and the roles played by legal professionals operating within them.
Rivkin explains the rationale behind the JII and its relevance in the context of the results of the survey: “Unless a judiciary is corruption-free, all of the other efforts to prosecute and eliminate corruption cannot succeed. As the world’s leading organisation of lawyers, bar associations and law societies, the IBA has a particular responsibility to combat judicial corruption where it occurs.
“Raising awareness of the legal consequences of judicial corruption and combatting it through practical actions and promoting the highest standards of integrity among judges, prosecutors, court personnel and lawyers are duties for all in the legal profession.”
Entitled The International Bar Associatin Judicial Integrity Initiative: Judicial Systems and Corruption, the study suggests bribery is thought most prevalent in countries where the rule of law is considered weak, while undue political influence occurs in countries across the board, regardless of governance structure.
In countries where political corruption is widespread, the study indicates that perceptions of levels of corruption in the judiciary are lower compared to other arms of public administration. However, where judicial professionals are reportedly involved in corruption a clear pattern has emerged among the different actors:  judges who engage in corrupt conduct do so most frequently in their interactions with lawyers and other judges, in contrast to lawyers who interact more regularly with third parties serving as intermediaries to influence cases.
Further, the survey data suggests that most alleged corrupt behaviour involving prosecutors is linked to interactions with other judicial professionals, but that the risk of third-party influence on prosecutors is also comparatively high. The study also shows that although court staff are not immune to corruption, they are more frequently reported to have been approached by external actors rather than actively seeking bribes.
The study corroborates widely held perceptions that in countries where the ability to corrupt is based on the ability to pay, wealthy and influential individuals are untouchable, enjoy higher levels of impunity, distort the judicial process, and compromise the rule of law.
The detailed study marks the completion of this phase of the JII. The JII is developing practical measures to address the corrupt behaviour identified in the study as undermining the effectiveness and legitimacy of the judicial process. These measures will include compiling a guide of best practices relating to the conduct of prosecutors, working with several bar association members of the IBA to implement specific practices designed to alter expectations in their countries regarding corrupt conduct and identify any gaps in national anti-corruption laws relating to judicial corruption.
Rivkin comments: “I sought to make it clear from inception that the JII is not an exercise in comparing, contrasting or finger-pointing, but rather an effort to find practical, effective measures that can reduce or eliminate judicial corruption where it occurs.
“Corruption is a very serious global problem that affects citizens throughout the world, especially the least empowered. It is incumbent upon each of us to do whatever we can to halt corruption. I accept this to be a substantial challenge, but failing to try is not an option.”