It probably makes no sense to ask which form of public corruption is the worst, since they all destroy the fabric of society. But as lawyers, we think judicial corruption should be singled out. Honest judges, after all, restrain corruption, while crooked judges unleash it on entire countries. When courts are for sale, those with money and power ravage the rights of those whose pockets are empty. Without honest and independent judiciaries, ordinary citizens lose the certainty of their legal, political and economic freedoms.
Judges are likely to be corrupt in countries where per capita income is low and economies are closed. Beyond those environmental causes, judicial corruption rises when judges are underpaid and overworked, when court procedures are complex and slow, and when anti-corruption enforcement is monopolized by a single enforcement agency. Those are the findings of one Stefan Voigt from the Department of Economics and Management at Philipps University in Marburg, Germany, as published by Transparency International.
India, according to TI’s 2007 global report on judicial corruption, is one of the countries that illustrates some of Prof Voigt’s hypotheses. In India, “[t]he estimated amount paid in bribes [for judicial corruption] in a 12-month period is around R2,630 crores (around US $580 million). . . . The primary causes of corruption are delays in the disposal of cases, shortage of judges and complex procedures, all of which are exacerbated by a preponderance of new laws. As of February 2006, 33,635 cases were pending in the Supreme Court with 26 judges; 3,341,040 cases in the high courts with 670 judges; and 25,306,458 cases in the 13,204 subordinate courts. This vast backlog leads to long adjournments and prompts people to pay to speed up the process. In 1999, it was estimated: ‘At the current rate of disposal it would take another 350 years for disposal of the pending cases even if no other cases were added.’ The ratio of judges is abysmally low at 12–13 per one million persons, compared to 107 in the United States, 75 in Canada and 51 in the United Kingdom. . . . This prompts people to pay ‘speed money’. . . . People seek shortcuts through bribery, favours, hospitality or gifts, leading to further unlawful behaviour.”
In any country, most citizens are powerless in the face of judicial corruption. Foreign investors, too, may feel threatened and victimized, and tempted to join the corrupt practices. But judges, court clerks and others in the judicial system are “foreign officials” under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Bribing them can violate U.S. law and certainly violates local law. That means there are plenty of reasons to raise compliance standards in places where judicial corruption is prevalent.
View Transparency International’s 2007 Global Judicial Corruption Report here.