Asset and Income Disclosure for Judges: A Summary Overview and Checklist By Keith E. Henderson*

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1 Asset and Income Disclosure for Judges: A Summary Overview and Checklist By Keith E. Henderson* Although judges often balk at the invasion of privacy that disclosure of their private finances entails, it is almost uniformly considered to be an effective means of discouraging corruption, conflicts of interest, and misuse of public funds [C]ivil society groups and the media play a key role in ensuring that these laws are enforced and the information disclosed is accurate, timely, and comprehensive. 1 I. Introduction and Overview Over the last several years, the disclosure of assets and incomes of public officers has emerged as a global anti-corruption issue, although many have quickly discovered that disclosure alone, without public access or oversight or fair and effective enforcement, will likely have limited impact. Indeed, from a human rights and business perspective, disclosure laws in systemically corrupt environments may be premature or too risky if approached in a piece-meal fashion. Initially, these disclosure obligations were directed primarily at elected officials, such as legislators and executive branch officials. More recently, the issue has emerged as a definitional coverage and compliance issue for judicial officials particularly judges. Only a few countries have specific legislation that expressly references judges. Even fewer have experience in implementing effective, transparent systems of disclosure for any public official, regardless of the definition of the term. That said, it appears that the majority of civil code countries implicitly include judges and prosecutors within this definition. II. International Principles Several treaties, conventions and non-binding guidelines and principles address the issue of judicial independence 2, and while none addresses directly the issue of assets disclosure in the judiciary, some, such as the UN Basic Principles on the Independence of Judiciary (UNBP), *Keith E. Henderson is the senior rule of law and anti-corruption advisor to IFES, an international non-profit working on democracy programs around the world, and is an adjunct professor of law at American University s Washington College of Law, where he teaches Global Corruption and the Rule of Law. He has also been a consultant to the Open Society Institute, USAID, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. 1 Guidance for Promoting Judicial Independence and Impartiality, 2001, USAID Technical Publication. The author of this note is a co-editor of this publication and wishes to acknowledge the valuable research and contributions of Violaine Autheman to this article. 2 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), European Convention on Human Rights (1951), Inter- American Convention on Human Rights (1978), African Charter on Human and People s Rights (1986), UN Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary (1985), the Universal Charter of the Judge (1999), the European Charter on the Statute of the Judge (1998), the Beijing Statement of Principles of the Independence of the Judiciary in the LAWASIA Region (1995) 1

2 include the philosophical ethical basis for this legislation. 3 Other international model ethical codes, such as The Bangalore Code, contain specific provisions relating to judicial disclosure. 4 III. Fight against Corruption Efforts Several conventions have been drafted to prevent and combat corruption, such as the Council of Europe Criminal Law Convention on Corruption (COE Convention), which specifically includes judges as public officials 5, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Anti-Corruption Convention (OECD Convention) 6 and the Inter-American Convention against Corruption (OAS Convention). 7 Only the OAS Convention expressly places the burden of proving that income and assets were derived legitimately on public officials under the principle of unjust enrichment and requires public officials to file income and asset disclosure statements. Even though the OAS Convention created the legal basis for income and asset disclosure of public officials, the legal question as to whether judges are deemed to be public officials remains unclear or is being debated on in a number of countries. In some countries, judges have raised issues of constitutional separation of powers and have taken the position that the judicial branch itself must pass and enforce its own disclosure laws and rules. Other unresolved issues relate to how to effectively and fairly implement and enforce disclosure laws (few countries have had significant experience or success) and how much of this personal information should be publicly available and in what form. Moreover, in countries where corruption is systemic, the enforcement, privacy and security issues require careful balancing and human rights consideration. 8 A number of countries in Latin America, such as Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Argentina, largely in response to the OAS Convention, have passed specific assets disclosure laws and rules that pertain to public officials. Some of these laws and rules clarify which public officials are covered but a number do not. Moreover, while the OAS has developed model disclosure legislation for member states to consider, it does not expressly mention judges. 9 3 UN Basic Principles on the Independence of Judiciary (1985) 4 Code of Judicial Conduct The Bangalore Draft (2001) a judge shall make such financial disclosures and pay all such taxes as required by law [rule 1.23]. Other relevant provisions include rules 1.15, 1.16, 1.20, 1.21 and Council of Europe, Criminal Law Convention on Corruption (1999), ETS no OECD, Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions (/1997) 7 OAS, Inter-American Convention against Corruption (1996), reprinted in 35 I.L.M OAS White Paper (2000) the author of this note is the author of this White Paper and one of the experts who assisted with the drafting of the model whistleblower law (paper available upon request). 9 OAS Model Open Government Laws Conference for Central America (Guatemala 2000) 2

3 IV. The International Arena: Source of the Obligation There are three basic sources of the assets disclosure obligation: a) Constitutional Obligation: Some constitutions impose an obligation to disclose assets on public officials. 10 b) Legislative Obligation: The majority of the countries regulate asset disclosure require by statute, although there are different types of Acts creating this obligation. Examples include: Poland. The draft law Freedom of Information Act 11, prepared by a coalition of NGOs, grants the access to information held by public authorities. The law requires that these authorities (judges are specifically included) provide information about, inter alia, annual salaries, other incomes, benefits and privileges related to the function. They must also provide property statements. El Salvador. The Illegal Enrichment Law 12 requires public officials including judges to file an affidavit with a state entity. The subjects included in this legislation are public officials and any individual responsible for managing public assets. The law mentions specifically, inter alia, Supreme Court justices, Judiciary Council judges, electoral judges, tax court of appeals judges. Uganda. The Constitutional office of the Inspectorate of Government (ombudsman), which is charged with the overall responsibility of fighting corruption, is responsible for the enforcement of the Leadership Code of Conduct. It is applicable to all public officers including judges. This Code establishes the obligation for all public officers of making disclosure of their assets. c) Court rules: In some countries, such as Argentina, the judiciary itself regulates the conduct of judges. Argentina. The Supreme Court adopted conflict of interest guidelines by Court Rule that are similar to those found in the 1995 Public Ethics Law (which is applicable to public officers in the Central Government). This law establishes that every public officer in the Central Government shall make disclosure of his assets in an affidavit deposited in the Anticorruption Office. However, the law does not include judges because the Constitution of Argentina and in the judicial precedents prohibits the executive and legislative branches from adopting rules for the judiciary. The law invited the other powers of the state to adopt similar rules. The United States. The Judicial Code of Conduct was passed in Its main provisions are the following: a) A judge should uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary; b) A judge should avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all activities; c) A judge should regulate extra judicial activities to minimize the risk of conflict with judicial duties; and, d) A judge should regularly file reports of compensation received for law-related and extra judicial activities See, inter alia, Colombia, Constitution article Poland, Illegal Enrichment Law (1959, amended 1974, 1992) 12 El Salvador, Freedom of Information Act (2001) 13 USA, Judicial Code of Conduct, canons 1, 2, 5 and 6 3

4 V. Kind of Assets and Incomes to be Disclose and Where the Information should be Located When addressing the issue of assets disclosure, it is fundamental to find a balance between the kind of information that must be available to the public and the rights to privacy and security of the official or judge. Corrupt information keepers or weak information systems and institutions can result in serious information leaks that could have serious human rights implications particularly in transition countries. It is also important to consider whether the assets of judge s family members should be included in the reports that they must make. If family members are not included and clearly defined, the whole system could be undermined. A cursory review of existing laws reveals there is no one model law or policy regarding exactly the range of assets judges should disclose. To some degree, it depends, inter alia, on the development context of the country in question. For similar reasons, it is important to determine carefully where the information will be filed and who will be responsible for it. United States. Until a few years ago, this information was only available by going to the Washington D. C. at the Administrative Office of the U.S. Judicial Conference. After strong criticism, judges agreed to post special order forms on the Internet, and at every federal courthouse in the U.S. Argentina. For security reasons, the decision of having the information available on the Internet that was debated over a two-year period. The decision was made not to publish the information on the Internet (except for those judges that voluntarily accept to do so), and make it available to the public only upon personal request at a specific location. Regarding the kind of assets to be disclosed, different countries have likewise adopted different models depending on the development context: Broad Disclosure. In the United States, there is an obligation to make a broad accounting of financial holdings, including a list of gifts, lectures fees or other outside incomes. However, there has been some criticism of some judges not fully disclosing their having received trip expenses from private sources and these rules are still under debate. Medium-size disclosure. In Argentina, judges are exempt from declaring some kinds of property if it might jeopardize their security. For example, judges are not obligated to submit details of the place where they live or their credit card numbers. Narrow disclosure. In many transition countries, judges must declare only incomes assets are exempt. VI. Judges Must Receive a Reasonable Salary Many judges, policy makers and development specialists believe that it will be difficult to expect full compliance with any disclosure laws until judges receive sufficient wages to at least maintain a respectable living and feed their families. This is a huge problem in many developing and transition countries. 14 United Nations experts have urged pay raises, citing the value of 14 For example, in Cambodia, in 1996, judges earned the equivalent of US$ 20 a month. 4

5 insuring the financial independence of judges and the appearance of propriety, alongside incentives for disclosure standards, compliance and enforcement. VII. Asset/Income Disclosure Checklist The following are some key issues that should be addressed by reformers when thinking about drafting and passing legislation on income and assets disclosure: 1. Is there a clear rule that makes assets disclosure mandatory for judges? 2. Is the disclosure obligation provided by the Constitution, the law or a judicial rule? Are serious issues of separation of powers raised in the country s constitution (with respect to whether the judiciary should pass and enforce its own disclosure rules)? 3. Who is under the disclosure obligation? Only judges or other judicial officials also? 4. Does the judge have to report the assets of his family members? What are the criteria used to define family members? 5. Which kind of assets and incomes must be disclosed and what information, if any, should remain confidential? 6. What is the procedure to access the information? Is it narrowly or broadly conceived? 7. Who can receive and file the information? 8. Where is the information available (physically, on-line, mail, fax, etc) and is there a cost for it? 9. Who can access the information (the public, media, businesses, international organizations, etc)? 10. Is there any sanction for those who do comply with the disclosure requirements? 11. Is there sufficient punishment for those who sell, disclose or use protected information for corrupt or illicit purposes? 12. How often are the judges obligated to present the information (annually, pre-appointment, pre-retirement, etc)? 13. Are there clearly defined processes and a trusted entity for determining whether illegal enrichment has occurred based on this information? 14. Does the institution or official(s) responsible for receiving, maintaining and reviewing this information have the capacity, resources and political will to discharge its legal and ethical responsibilities? 15. Is there a serious likelihood of abuse, especially in relation to the protection of the right to privacy, career or physical safety? 16. Is the judiciary independent and capable of enforcing these laws and regulations fairly and effectively and of protecting people s human and privacy rights? 17. Is there an access to information and whistleblower law? Are privacy rights in this area clearly defined in the legislation? 18. If there is systemic corruption or institutional state capture, a comprehensive cost benefit analysis focused on potential human rights abuses should be undertaken and carefully weighed. 19. Is there sufficient executive, parliamentary and civil society oversight as well as an independent media that can fairly report on this information to the public? 20. Have the criminal and civil codes undergone reform and are the investigative and prosecutorial roles of judges and prosecutors clear? 5

6 21. Is there an anti-corruption commission or campaign underway? If so, are the laws and judicial institutions being used as political weapons? X. Selected Bibliography Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary, 7 th UN Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, Milan, Italy, 08/26-09/06/1985, GA resolutions 40/32 of 11/29/1985 and 40/146 of 12/13/1985, UN GAOR, 40 th Session, Supp. no.53, UN Doc. A/40/53 Universal Charter of the Judge, 1999, General Council of the International Association of Judges Beijing Statement of Principles of the Independence of the Judiciary in the LAWASIA Region, 08/19/1995, Beijing, China, 6 th Conference of the Chief Justices of Asia and the Pacific European Charter on the Status of Judges, 07/08-10/1998, Council of Europe, Strasbourg, France Global Framework Action Plan for Judges in Europe, 2001, Appendix 11, 740 th Meeting of the Ministers Deputies, Council of Europe, Strasbourg, France Code of Judicial Conduct the Bangalore Draft, 2001, Judicial Group on Strengthening Judicial Integrity Guidance for Promoting Judicial Independence and Impartiality, 2001, USAID Technical Publication Inter-American Convention against Corruption, 1996, OAS Council of Europe Criminal Law Convention on Corruption, 1999, ETS no.173 Transparency International, Confronting Corruption: The Elements of a National Integrity System (Source Book),

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