judicial independence | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction

Judicial Independence refers to the idea that the judiciary should be kept separated from the undue influence of other branches of government and private political interests.

Let’s understand judicial independence in the criminal justice context. It means that judges are not influenced by anything or anyone, not by the government, not by powerful individuals or groups, not even by public opinion. They can make decisions based only on the law and the facts of the case. Above all, they should never feel threatened or scared into making a certain decision.

Why Judicial Independence Matters

Imagine you’re in a basketball game, and the referee starts making calls in favor of the other team because they’re friends. That wouldn’t be fair, right? The same idea applies to the court system. A judge needs to be like a fair referee, making decisions based on the rules and the facts, not on who they like or who’s pressuring them.

After all, judicial independence is essential for the rule of law, which is a key principle in any democratic society. It guarantees that everyone is equal before the law and that everyone has the right to a fair trial. This way, judicial independence helps to protect our rights and freedoms.

Threats to Judicial Independence

Unfortunately, this can sometimes be threatened. A government may try to control the judges or the courts in order to get the outcomes it wants. Powerful individuals or groups might try to use their influence or money to sway a judge’s decision. Even the media or public opinion can sometimes put pressure on judges.

Both direct threats and more subtle forms of pressure can undermine judicial independence. Afterward, judges might feel afraid to make certain decisions, or they might start favoring some groups over others. This would hurt the fairness of our justice system.

Safeguarding Judicial Independence

How do we protect it? There are several important safeguards in place. For one, judges often have “security of tenure”, which means they can’t be fired or punished for their decisions. Additionally, the process for selecting and promoting judges is designed to be fair and impartial.

There are also clear rules about things like conflicts of interest and judicial ethics. These rules are meant to prevent judges from being influenced by outside factors. All in all, these safeguards help to uphold the principle of judicial independence.


In conclusion, judicial independence is a cornerstone of a fair and just society. Without it, the scales of justice can be tipped, and the rights and freedoms we enjoy can be put at risk. Accordingly, it’s essential that we understand and value judicial independence and that we continue to safeguard it in our justice system. After that, we can trust that the law is being applied fairly and impartially, no matter who we are or what our situation might be.

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Last Modified: 04/13/2023


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