Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Diminished confidence in Helsinki Appeal Court judges

Racist jokes and disparaging comments against women by Helsinki Appeal Court judges put into question their impartiality in cases before their court involving people of African descent, women and other minorities.

Helsingin Sanomat reported on 8 August 2013 that Helsinki Court of Appeal male judges told racist jokes and made disparaging comments and sexual suggestions against women.

According to the MTV3 report that initially brought the irresponsible conduct to light, the judges used racist and derogatory words, including the n-word during recess and decision deliberations in the courthouse. The judges also reportedly spoke disparagingly of Jews, Russians, homosexuals, prostitutes and victims of sexual crimes.

The revealing report states that the use of inappropriate language in the appeal court is "quite extensive".

After the shocking revelation that followed an internal investigation of the judicial system, Mikko Könkkölä, president of the appeal court, said the behavior of the judges involved was inappropriate but did not influence decision-making.  

I partly agree with the president of the court and applaud his attempt to protect the integrity of his court. The behavior of the judges was totally inappropriate, albeit the fact that "inappropriate", in my view, does not aptly describe the conduct. I however think that the judges' derogatory perception of minorities, victims of sexual crimes and prostitutes influence decisions of the appeal court.

In my opinion, the shameful behavior by supposedly honorable judges undermines the integrity of Helsinki's appellate court and puts into question the impartiality of its judges in cases involving women, people of African descent and other minorities. Racist and sexist jokes by judges - in or out of court - diminish confidence in Finnish courts.

The Minister of Justice condemned the remarks made by judges. She said their behavior does not create confidence in the judicial system.

I totally agree with Minister Anna-Maja Henriksson. Personally, as a person of African descent, I won't trust a judge who uses racial slurs to describe people who look like me.

In my view, the judges involved in this scandal should be asked to recuse or recuse themselves from cases involving minorities targeted by their racist and sexist expressions.

A formal complaint has been lodged with the parliamentary Ombudsman. It remains to be seen whether or not there will be consequences for the gross judicial misconduct by Helsinki Court of Appeal judges. Failure to take action against the judges would be a missed opportunity by the authorities to restore confidence in the judicial system.

*Image: HFHR

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