The promise and declaration made by a judge on his or her appointment is that he or she will execute their office “without fear or favour, affection or ill-will towards any man” and that he or she “will uphold the Constitution and the laws”. These are not empty words, or something to which mere lip-service is to be paid. It is fundamental to the maintenance of confidence in the judiciary that judges should not only be independent, but that they should also be impartial.
Moreover, not only must judges actually be impartial but they must do everything they can to ensure that they are perceived as such. According to the old adage, “justice must not only be done but be seen to be done”. It is for this reason that judges are expected, in their personal lives, to avoid words, actions or situations that might make them appear to be biased or disrespectful of the laws they are sworn to uphold. They must treat lawyers, clients and witnesses with respect and must refrain from comments that suggest they have made up their minds in advance. Outside of court a judge should not socialise with a lawyer or client involved in a case before him or her. Moreover, it is in general undesirable for a judge to socialise or associate with lawyers appearing regularly before him or her, or with other persons connected with the cases they hear, as to do so might leave them open to the accusation of favouritism.
In general, a judge will recuse himself from any case to which he has a personal connection, e.g. a case that involves relatives or friends, or former client, or a member of the judge’s former law firm, or a former business associate, or some other circumstance that might create a risk of his impartiality being called into question.
Judges often choose to avoid most forms of community involvement. A judge may undertake community or charitable work but cannot offer legal or investment advice. Judges cannot take part in politics, either as a party member, fundraiser or donor. While Article 35.3 of the Constitution of Ireland states that “[n]o judge shall be eligible to be a member of either House of the Oireachtas” the long established convention is that judges cannot hold any political office at all or participate in politics in any way.
While judges have been somewhat more willing in recent years to make public speeches, or agree to media interviews, the traditional rule which continues to be respected and observed is one of judicial reticence. The judiciary recognises that almost anything a judge says will be controversial – either because it relates to some decision or conduct by the judiciary which is a matter of temporary public or media concern , or more likely , because it may be perceived as being critical of the Government.