Legal Approaches to Supporting Good Governance and Integrity in Africa
Chapter 8: Judges: independence, integrity and accountability
According to Herodotus, Sisamnes was a judge during the rule of King Cambyses II of Persia (529-522 BC). He accepted a bribe and later delivered an unjust verdict. As a result, the king had him arrested and flayed alive, his skin being used to cover the seat on which his son would later sit as his successor. A fate that may well have concentrated the mind of the son! In 1498 the Dutch painter Gerard David painted two panels: in the first, entitled Judgment of Cambyses, Judge Sisamnes is seen accepting the bribe while the second panel, entitled the Flaying of Sisamnes, graphically depicts the carrying out of the king's order. While supposedly showing events in 6th century BC Persia, the characters are in contemporary Flemish attire and the background is clearly 15th century Bruges: a strong indication as to the artist's view of the state of the judiciary in the city at that time. Today, such an artist might well attire their subject in the robes of a modern judge for judicial corruption is a seemingly perennial problem and is certainly not confined to African states. Thus while judicial independence is a constitutional necessity, it follows that having in place provisions designed to uphold judicial accountability and integrity are also key to combating corruption and supporting good governance. Realizing this in practice is the focus of this chapter.
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