Understanding Us/Uk Government and Politics: A Comparative Guide

By Duncan Watts | Go to book overview

6
Judiciaries

Courts of law are part of the political process, for governmental decisions and
acts passed by the legislative body may require judicial decisions to be imple-
mented. Courts need to be independent to be respected, but this is difficult to
achieve in practice. There is never full independence as far as appointment is
concerned, and Blondel warns that in their verdicts judges cannot be expected
'to go outside the norms of the society'.1 In Britain and America, the courts have
traditionally diverged in their behaviour, but today there are more similarities
than there were a few decades ago. Judges have become more active players on
the political scene. Even so, many British people would probably not consider the
courts to be part of the political system, whereas in the United States their
political role sometimes becomes very apparent
.

We are primarily concerned with the courts in their political capacity rather than
with their criminal and civil caseload. We shall explore the role of judiciaries, how
judicial independence is protected in both countries, the types of person who
become judges, and the differing conceptions of their role and we shall assess
the extent to which they are involved in political matters
.


POINTS TO CONSIDER
What mechanisms exist to ensure judicial impartiality? To what extent is the idea of an independent judiciary put into practice in Britain and the United States?
In making appointments to the Bench, should the personalities and opinions of individual judges be taken into account?
As judges perform an increasingly political role, should they be elected?
Does it matter that the social background of leading judges on both sides of the Atlantic is unrepresentative of society as a whole?
Should the courts lead public opinion or should they follow it?
To what extent are the courts of law political?

-139-

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