More senior judges and fewer party-political appointees are needed to combat political interference in judicial appointments, according to Freedom Under Law.

This is one of the recommendations it made following a review of the Judicial Service Commission’s (JSC) performance over the last 13 years.

It commissioned a report, released on Tuesday, that focuses on key deficiencies in the JSC’s two primary functions – appointing judicial officers and holding them accountable – and has been forwarded to the Office of the Chief Justice.

It made recommendations on how the JSC should address these issues in order to ensure a more functional and accountable committee as well as a judiciary capable of upholding the rule of law.

Calli Solik, the report’s lead researcher and author, discovered a wide range of issues plaguing the JSC, urging structural, infrastructural, and procedural reform to allow the JSC to effectively carry out its constitutional mandate.
It found that the commission’s inconsistent questioning of candidates, “inexplicable” appointment decisions, and lack of accountability were caused by its failure to adopt and apply appropriate guidelines.

Since then, the JSC has made revised criteria and guidelines for appointing judges available for public comment.

“In addition, its processes have been stymied by political interference at various levels, with commissioners, in particular, using the now-famous public interviews to air their political agendas,” the report stated.

“With the volume of complaints increasing, the Judicial Conduct Committee requires more internal support.” Disciplinary procedures should be streamlined, and complainants should arguably be brought back into the process to improve the speed with which complaints are handled.

“The JSC should establish realistic timeframes for complaint resolution, and failure to meet these must be accompanied by a reasonable explanation.” It should also be considered to use retired judges to preside over Judicial Conduct Tribunals.”

According to the report, the current system for dealing with complaints against judges was “broken,” necessitating a fundamental reassessment of the JSC Act’s provisions.

According to the act’s preamble, this would be to achieve an “appropriate and effective balance between protecting the independence and dignity of the judiciary… and the overriding principles of openness, transparency, and accountability.”

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