Judges’ and Lawyers’ Freedoms of Expression, Association and Assembly: overview of international standards

The ICJ has published an overview of international standards on judges’ and lawyers’ freedoms of expression, association and assembly, in a submission to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers.The document responds to the Special Rapporteur’s call for input for an upcoming report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The submission outlines the relevant international standards and key regional jurisprudence and standards, as well as illustrative national cases and practice and several academic sources.

The ICJ concludes, among other things, that:

  • Judges and prosecutors are like other citizens entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly, subject only to necessary and proportionate restrictions for valid purposes.
  • In principle any such restrictions that are specifically related to their judicial functions, should be established by the judiciary itself or another independent body with majority membership of judges.
  • Any proceedings against a judge or prosecutor related to their exercise of these freedoms should comply fully with international human rights law and standards in terms of the grounds and procedures, including as set out in standards on independence of the judiciary and prosecutors.
  • Judges and prosecutors should be required to recuse themselves from any case where they have previously exercised these freedoms in a way that would give rise to a reasonable apprehension of bias in their subsequent conduct of the case.
  • At the same time, the above considerations do not mean that a judge or prosecutor can never engage in expression, association or assemblies that touch on issues or parties that could speculatively come before the courts at some future point. Total isolation from the community and society is neither realistic nor desirable.
  • In general, involvement in or comment on matters of party politics carry particularly high risks of giving rise to perceptions of lack of independence and there is relatively wide scope to enact restrictions on this ground.
  • It is particularly important that judges (and prosecutors) can exercise their freedoms of expression, association and assembly in order to address: threats to the independence of the judiciary; threats to judicial integrity; fundamental aspects of the administration of justice; or to otherwise promote and protect universally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law. As such, there is very limited scope for any authority to restrict exercise of these freedoms for these purposes.
  • The relevant standards and principles apply to online forms of expression and association (including social media) in an equal or analogous manner to their application to offline forms. However, judges and prosecutors should be aware of and take into account practical aspects of online forms of expression and association.

The full submission can be downloaded in PDF format here:  Universal-SRIJL Judges-Advocacy-non legal submission-2019-ENG

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