It is a paradigm of the judicial role in society that ethics informs and governs our own behaviour and practice. The ethical basis of decision making is key to the governance of professionals who make life changing decisions with individuals and that is of critical importance where the decision maker is charged by their professional obligations to be the arbiter between individuals, other decision makers and, significantly, the State.
The parallels with both the private and public sectors are inherent: it has from time immemorial been a constant of professional ethics that the individual practitioner should safeguard, by themselves upholding and demonstrating, the highest professional and social values and standards. The purpose is to maintain respect for the profession and its privilege, in whole or in part, to regulate the activities of its members, i.e. not to bring the profession into disrepute. All the more so when the profession is comprised of those who make decisions on behalf of society and whose independence is a constitutional norm. It has recently become good practice for bodies of judges to publish a statement of ethics or sometimes more narrowly a code of conduct by which, like most other professions and organisations, its members are expected to conform. The principles which I would like to consider with you go beyond the familiar assertions in codes of conduct to those which I will suggest are necessary to safeguard the rule of law.
I will suggest that what marks out the leadership of the judiciary from other professions whose leadership training we share, for example, that provided by the medical Royal Colleges, the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and the Defence Academy, the Police College and the former School of Government at Sunningdale, are the principles which are derived from:
- Constitutional norms (including the position of the judiciary as the third limb of the State and the constitutional duties placed upon them to provide open justice and effective access to justice),
- The principles of the rule of law, and
- Ethical standards.