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Minimal Essential Qualities

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(i)   Integrity
(This should be undisputed)

It should be regarded as the keystone of the judicial system. It enables a judge to base his decision strictly on the facts and the law. It enables him to disregard personalities and all other extraneous matters. Consequently this quality should be rigorously sought in any candidate to the point that it may be preferable to err on the side of caution in this investigation. A candidate must be honest, truthful and be able to admit responsibility for mistakes. Integrity is also reflected by impartiality, moral courage, intellectual honesty and obedience to the law and high ethical standards.

An examination of a candidate’s personal and professional conduct should reflect adherence to these principles.

(ii)   Legal Knowledge and Ability

To secure successful performance of the function of a judge, a candidate should possess a sufficiently high level of knowledge of the law, substantive as well as procedural, and be able to interpret and apply the law. He should be able to communicate, both orally and in writing, his reasoning in coming to a decision. In all this, he is expected to conduct himself so as to demonstrate that he has the ability to understand the issues presented and to respond to them effectively and be able to reach a decision efficiently.

Given that legal knowledge and ability should be continually refreshed, updated and enhanced, a candidate should possess a willingness to assimilate new ideas and skills.

(iii)   Professional Experience

Professional experience is any substantial exposure to legal problems and the judicial process. It should not refer exclusively to practising law at the Bar. The experience however should be long enough to provide a basis for the evaluation of the candidate’s experience.

The extent and variety of the candidate’s experience should be considered in light of the requirements of the judicial office that is being considered.

Although trial experience is desirable, other types of legal experience are relevant. Experience in government legal work, corporate legal work, in public interest bodies and as a successful law teacher and writer, for instance, are relevant and can contribute towards the desired professional experience.

(iv)   Judicial Temperament

This quality is universally regarded as an important criterion of a judge. Qualities of judicial temperament stem from the nature of the judicial function. Since the function is essentially concerned with conflict resolution, it requires the ability to deal with counsel, witnesses and parties with fairness, calmness, patience and courtesy, and the willingness to hear and consider all news presented. As an arbiter, it requires a judge to be even tempered, open-minded and confident, without losing firmness. He should be willing to understand and appreciate the whole range of topics and issues that may be presented, whether he is initially familiar with them or otherwise. Underlying all these is his understanding of the importance of his role to the administration of justice and to the rights of parties and therefore he needs to overlook his personal desires in order to serve those objectives.

Factors which are incompatible with judicial temperament include arrogance, impatience, pomposity, loquacity, irascibility and arbitrariness.

(v)   Diligence

A candidate should have the care and earnest effort to accomplish that which he undertakes. Diligence implies good work habits and the ability to set priorities to his work.

As procedural deadlines are important in court work, a candidate should have a good record for punctuality and respect for the time of other lawyers, litigants and parties and others involved.

(vi)   Health

This is directed to ascertain that a candidate does not have any serious condition (physical or mental) that could affect his abilities to perform his duties as a fair and mpartial judge, including any erratic or bizarre behaviour or addiction to alcohol or drugs.

(vii)   Financial Responsibility

Financial responsibility demonstrates self-discipline and important in predicting his ability to withstand pressures that might compromise independence.

(viii)   Public Service

A judge is required to be sensitive, compassionate and considerate. His involvement in public service can indicate his social consciousness and consideration for others.

(ix)   Views on Public Issues

Merit selection should not preclude any person from being favourably considered on account of his opinion on public issues. However, if such opinions indicate an easily prejudiced mind, he may not the suitable for judicial office.

(x)   Desirable Special Qualities

Different courts and at different levels require judges to have special knowledge and skills. Though special knowledge and skills are desirable, it should not be overemphasized resulting in otherwise good candidates being passed over. Certainly knowledge, experience and special interest in issues of families and children would be an added advantage if the candidate is largely to deal with cases involving juveniles. For a candidate for the Appeal Court and the Federal Court, because of the collegial decision making process, it is important for the candidate to understand and respect differing opinions; also experience in scholarly research and writing on the development of the law.


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