The Rules of the Game for Judicial Office, Judges and Magistrates

The Rules of the Game for Judicial Office, Judges and Magistrates







1 March 2021

Today, more than ever, you need to understand the rules to which a judicial office holder must adhere.

The foundation of the game comes in the oath they take which incapsulates as standard, the expected behaviour of the office holder;  judicial independence, impartiality and integrity.

As an introduction to the paper I present in full at the bottom of this page, I offer you some key points to note before you enter the play in today’s courts.

Guide to Judicial Conduct

Published in 2003 the guide to judicial conduct is the work of a working group of judges chaired by Lord Justice Pill in which a set of principles were presented to help salaried judges, fee paid judges and Magistrates ensure the oath and office are never tainted with unlawful activities. In 2005 The Constitutional Reform Act shifted the power of office from the old and accepted Lord Chancellor into the hands of the Lord Chief Justice. This can be seen as the Temple Crown usurping the Crown of England. This placed the British Empire and its administration law over the top of English Constitutional Law and the common law.

The Equality Act 2010 underlined the importance of equality and fairness of treatment inherent in the judicial oath.

The following paper is a revision of the original guide to judicial conduct in light of the changes brought about after the 2003 publication of the same.

What remains the same, however, is the basic set of principles guiding judicial conduct. Judicial independence, impartiality and integrity provide judges with a guide, not only as to the way they discharge their judicial functions, but also as to how they conduct their private lives to the extent that this affects their judicial role. They remain at the heart of this Guide and at the centre of every judicial officeholder’s conduct. [Page 3]
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Points of Note

The Guide applies to all judges in courts and tribunals, whether salaried or fee-paid, legal or nonlegal. This includes magistrates and reserved tribunals’ judiciary.

Retired judges and magistrates
Retired judges should exercise caution and are encouraged therefore to refer to this guidance so as to avoid any activity that may tarnish the reputation of the judiciary.
Retired magistrates remain subject to the Declaration and Undertaking signed on appointment.

How does the Guide apply?
• This Guide must be read against the background of :
• The Terms of Appointment and Conditions of Service to which all salaried and fee-paid judges in courts and tribunals are subject.
• The Declaration and Undertaking which all magistrates sign on appointment. [Page 4]

Rules and regulations of other professional bodies
Fee paid judges are likely to be members of a professional association which may have its own set of rules and regulations. Where those have legal force, in the unlikely event of a conflict with this Guide, they take precedence. [Page 5]

There are three basic principles guiding judicial conduct :
• Judicial independence
• Impartiality
• Integrity

They are a distillation of the six fundamental values set out in the Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct that were endorsed at the 59th session of the United Nations Human Rights Commission at Geneva in April 2003 and which form the key statement on judicial ethics.

Judicial Independence 
Judicial independence is a cornerstone of our system of government in a democratic society and a safeguard of the freedom and rights of the citizen under the rule of law. The judiciary must be seen to be independent of the legislative and executive arms of government both as individuals and as a whole.

Judges should bear in mind that the principle of judicial independence extends well beyond the traditional separation of powers and requires that a judge be, and be seen to be, independent of all sources of power or influence in society, including the media and commercial interests.


The judicial oath provides :
“I will do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of this Realm, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will.” 

In taking that oath, the judge acknowledges that he or she is primarily accountable to the law which he or she must administer. Coroners and some fee paid judges do not take the judicial oath, but they too are primarily accountable to the law which they administer. 
Judges should strive to ensure that their conduct, both in and out of court, maintains and enhances the confidence of the public, the legal profession and litigants, in their personal impartiality and that of the judiciary. [Page 6]

It follows that judges should, so far as is reasonable, avoid extra-judicial activities that are likely to cause them to have to refrain from sitting because of a reasonable apprehension of bias or because of a conflict of interest that would arise from the activity.


Judges are expected to put the obligations of judicial office above their own personal interests. In practical terms, this means that judges are expected to display :

Intellectual honesty
Respect for the law and observance of the law
Prudent management of financial affairs
Diligence and care in the discharge of judicial duties
Discretion in personal relationships, social contacts and activities 

A judge’s conduct in court should uphold the status of judicial office, the commitment made in 
the judicial oath and the confidence of litigants in particular and the public in general. The judge should seek to be courteous, patient, tolerant and punctual and should respect the dignity of all. He or she should ensure that no one in court is exposed to any display of bias or prejudice from any source. In the case of those with a disability, care should be taken that arrangements made for and during a court hearing do not put them at a disadvantage.[Page 7]

Judges should adhere to these instructions and guidance.
In accordance with the Declaration and Undertaking signed on appointment, magistrates should comply with any directions in relation to they’re sitting as a magistrate. [Page 8]

Activities outside court

Commercial activities
The restrictions on judges’ involvement in commercial enterprises are set out in the relevant
Terms and Conditions.

Salaried judges
As a general rule, salaried judges may not hold commercial directorships, other than ones concerned with the management of family assets, and may only hold non-commercial directorships where they relate to organisations whose primary purpose is not profit-related, and whose activities are of an uncontroversial character.

Fee-paid judges
Whilst fee-paid judges are not subject to the same degree of constraint as those who are salaried, they should not use their appointment as a means of pursuing personal, professional or commercial advantage.

Whilst magistrates are not subject to the same degree of constraint as salaried judges, they should not use their appointment as a means of pursuing personal, professional or commercial advantage. They should also be mindful of the need to ensure that any personal, professional or commercial activities do not create a conflict of interest (real or perceived) with their role as independent judicial office holders.

Magistrates should seek advice from their justices’ clerk (or equivalent) if in any doubt about the applicability of the above to their personal circumstances. [Page 9]



Further Study
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