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What makes a good judge?

What makes a good judge?

Is it being impartial, unprejudiced and analytical?
Is it being old and experienced?
Is it the ability to use the practical wisdom Barry Schwartz mentions?
Is it concentrating on justice rather than on conflicts of interests?

Is it a combination? What do you think?

  • May 15 2013: Thank you for directing me to the related talks.

    I like a combination of the first 3 you listed: Unprejudiced, Able to see a long time constant integral of action and consequence, and practical wisdom.

    And from the talks directly: co-misery and what Mr. Stevenson said about a clear focus on appreciating the victim's changed perspective.

    Thank you again,
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    May 18 2013: It depends on what is being judged. Can a judge who lacks insight or education into the complexities of humans fitly judge the actions of those beings? Can a Criminal judge, offer justice in a purely economic matter?

    Can a chemist judge the goals, revelations and understandings of the Physicist, a Psychologist, a

    Bias is sometimes a means of self-preservation that makes one prejudiced.
    Being too analytical can get one lost in the details.
    Freeing the Slaves in a country may be justice but it can definitely cause a conflict of interest.
    Being too old and fixed in your ways may not lead to justice in new matters that are seeking a place in the minds and hearts of most citizens.
    There is no practical wisdom that would make one an all encompassing judge of all things: I believe.

    I think a judge should be specialized like doctors. We need more of these types of Judges so we can pick up the pace of social change.

    Perhaps a simple democratic vote can be all that is needed in most cases.

    In the US. All a judge really does is apply the law to the findings of a jury of common people. In the end, it is they who determine where justice will be applied and, in some cases, how it is applied. In this sense, a Judge can offer an impartial, unprejudiced and analytical summation to a finding that a passionate jury of common people have given. That is, a judge can lessen the impact on a citizen that is found guilty by a heavily biased jury, while in the eyes of the Judge, may be not guilty.

    I don't think a judge should determine the outcome of a presidential election. I don't think a Judge should be allowed to put aside a Jury's verdict.
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      May 19 2013: Hi John,

      Some quotes from your comment:

      "I don't think a judge should determine the outcome of a presidential election. I don't think a Judge should be allowed to put aside a Jury's verdict. "

      As you said, what a judge does is to apply law to the jury's (the common people's) verdict. That automatically means (or at least should if a judge is specialised, as you say) that the biases of the jury will be identified and taken into consideration while remembering that humanism and reason can never be put aside or away.
      My experience is probably a bit different from yours but what you say here "Perhaps a simple democratic vote can be all that is needed in most cases." - good that you said 'in most cases', thank you for thinking so deeply and applying so much perspective.
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    May 15 2013: Any judge is as human as me and you...so are the parties seeking justice....
    Just ask the same person who is seeking justice to sit on the judge's chair and a magic would happen!!!
    The responsibility of sitting on that position would elevate him from the others.... elevate him to the level of humanity....
    his thinking process changes....
    Even then being a human he still has all the capabilities of making an error in judgement.... because the judgement would be by his own perspective (though in the light of humanity) ... which would ultimately go in favour of one person and against the other.... the person whom it goes against will always say that the judge did a wrong judgement....!!!
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      May 15 2013: Vaneesh , are you refering to the story called," judgment seat of Vikramaditya."
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        May 15 2013: Well sort of!! now that i recall it..... Good to see Indian brothers here!!!!
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          May 15 2013: Vaneesh Thank you. Good to have contact with you. Anna wanted to know the story , read and recall.
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          May 15 2013: Hi,

          I scanned the story from the link.

          "Never was he deceived. Never did he punish the wrong man." - now that's a good judge! But why is it a he?
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        May 15 2013: What's the story? Just asking to understand the conversation better.
  • May 20 2013: A public officer authorized to hear and decide cases in a court of law; a magistrate charged with the administration of justice.

    A judge impartially decides if an individual has broken the law.

    As for doing the right thing - We are all brought up to know what is right or wrong in society. It is instilled in us. We have in essence for the most part the knowlege of good and evil. We have a coinscience. We seek fairness.

    Some problems is that what we think is right and proper in society changes with the times. For example in the 50s we allowed certain things to happen but things we allow to happen today would not be acceptable then. Society changes. Sociology 101 on morales.

    A good judge does not care and will only look at the written law of the day to make his decision.

    A bad judge sets law from the bench by interrputing law and setting precedences or only utilizing part of the law that meets their bias..
    • May 20 2013: Many people don't understand that it is in fact a judge's job to make new law. Judges must follow legislation. Where there is no legislation, they must follow the previous decisions of other judges. But where neither of those things exist, they create new law by making up their own minds. Because new technology is advancing so quickly, cases where is no law or precedent are cropping up more frequently.

      Even where legislation exists, there can be considerable leeway in how it's interpreted. Laws are made up of words, and words are not black and white with definitive solutions like math equations. If interpreting the law were easy we would not need lawyers.
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        May 21 2013: Life evolves, culture evolves, we evolve.

        And change for the better.

        Smart people should make the law, the judges should use it.

        If the system of life is plain and binary and should have freedom and ethics at its core.... there will be no need for judges, just improvement to the system.

        This doesn't have to take so much time.
        • May 23 2013: a "plain and binary" system of law would not be fair because human beings are more complicated than that. They also often disagree. You cannot please everyone.
      • May 21 2013: If judges make law as you say, why do we have a legislative branch of the govt?
        • May 23 2013: I explained this in my post. There are 3 branches of government and all 3 can create law depending on the situation. This seems to be something that is not taught well in schools...
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    May 20 2013: a good and strong person.
  • May 18 2013: Laws are made by politicians who are not necessarily interested in justice. Interest groups fund lawmakers campaigns. In order to get laws passed, the language of the laws are very unclear so laws are clarified and developed by judges. All judges need to be more interested in doing the right thing than being political.
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    May 16 2013: Only one who is pure in heart, like a little child, could be perfectly just.
  • W T 100+

    • +1
    May 16 2013: Being incorruptible.
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      May 16 2013: Hi Lee,

      - being a judge is not about being cool, I think, but thanks for your comment. Keeping a cool head is one thing, seemng cool to others is another.
      - you seem to focus on archeology and history, that's very interesting. Do you have any links wth data or just hypotheses?
      - are any of the things you mention provable? If so - how, on what basis?
      - I focus on the tags that is - ethics, law, conflict mediation. How does any of the points you mention contribute to those?

      Thanks, waiting on you.
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      May 16 2013: India is a Common Law nation. However, I do not think India jurisprudence enjoys any more credibility than those of other democratic countries. I would have been happy to say that as an Indian, but it is simply not true.
  • May 15 2013: In addition to the things you mention and those cited by the responders below, I think a good judge should have an understanding of both justice and injustice, specifically an understanding of the effects of people in violation of the law have on other people directly and a potential risk.

    I think a good judge should have an understanding of the consequences of a decision on a all parties.

    I think a good judge should have an understanding of the flaws in the human character and an appreciation for the likelihood of a person changing their ways as a result of some consequence.
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      May 15 2013: Thank you.

      Just a quick reply - "I think a good judge should have an understanding of the flaws in the human character and an appreciation for the likelihood of a person changing their ways as a result of some consequence." ...and a result of good, proper, working rehabilitation with ethical considerations at their core, ethical for everybody directly or indirectly involved. That's presented in both talks that inspired this question. Understanding and is the key in all this, I think. Key to making a decision and passing any judgment on anybody or anything is a decision . We should all learn fom both past successes and past mistakes and ask the right questions, I think.
      Thanks again.
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      May 15 2013: Thanks, Carolyn, you just won the hit-the-nail-on-the-head award! :)
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    May 15 2013: The story ,"Judgement seat of Vikramaditya" goes like this .

    Vikramaditya was a just king liked and revered by all for his impartial and fair judgements.

    In a far off village there was an ancient broken stone seat believed to be used by Vikramaditya some few hundred years before. There was a dispute in village, where opinion of villagers was divided. Village elders decided to make a simpletone a judge and made him to sit and deliver his judgment on the ancient seat of Vikramaditya. This man new about Vikramaditya and when he sat on that seat, he was overwhelmed by the importance of his role in this dispute. He delivered the judgement always keeping in mind the great King Vikramaditya to the great satisfaction of all.
    Some villagers believed he was possesed by Vikramaditya whenever he sat on that seat. But village elders knew what was the Magic. That is what Vaneesh was telling.
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    May 15 2013: I feel & think it's the use of COMMON SENSE
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      May 15 2013: Hi,

      Some thoughts:

      - common sense in an uncommonly crazy world? Common sense should be there in obvious cases, but at some levels that I mentioned in a different comment you probably need more than just that.
      On the other hand, are there obvious cases in a complex world?
      Even in cases that seem obvious to people when they are using their common sense there are mistakes to be made - think about language barriers, biases, cultural differences. At some levels of misunderstandings the consequences may be dire - wars, conflicts, misuse of power, you name it.

      - common sense is not ethical, at least not always, and that was one of the tags in this conversation - ethical. What is common sense in let's say Texas is useless and regarded as nonsensical or crazy in for example Japan. Such global perspectives do matter, I think, and should matter to a good judge.

      Thanks for your contribution.
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        May 15 2013: Hi
        Thanks for your reply
        Well ethics is not constant. Morality and ethics evolves over time ...that's where common sense can play it role.

        Common sense actually helps one to identify or be aware of all diversity (language, culture, religion, race, gender etc ) we have around us. If one is focused to PRINCIPLE only while judging, s/he will miss all those diversity can principally take everyone to be Human Being (which a they are) an may judge only on that basis, which can be wrong.

        The cited examples of Texas & Japan seems to me be more of Social Norm , or even ethics / moral practice ...and application of common sense which needs continuous curious learning from surroundings can play a very good role in judging ....

        Have a good day.
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          May 15 2013: Hi Salim,

          - is it a good social norm to misunderstand and laugh at others? Either people or cultures?
          - is it a good social norm jump to conclusions about others and misuse their weaknesses to the groups' own advantage?
          - is it a god social norm to flash your principles to mask the fact that you don't really follow them?
          - is it a good social norm to have all of the above and more (misunderstanding of self and others) wrapped in a pleasing gift-paper made by groups that are never given any choices or even the ability to understand that choices can be made (i.e. lack of education, access to it, disinformation by simplification/fabrication which can be hurtful to others?)

          If you ask all those questions and many more, you can find that the so-called common sense of social norms is hurtful to ethics and that some parts of it is just superstition or prejudice.

          What principle should be followed? No bullshit, no cruelty, veiled or not, reason, dialogue, kindness, listening for the sake of understanding? And what to do when the truth about all this is staring into your eyes? Continue the dialogue to develop all this further? I hope this is doable.
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        May 16 2013: Hi Anna
        Well the questions you asked above, answer to those is a big NO to all. Those are not only bad social norm but also bad for human quality that's how I see those.

        By the way , culture is really an interesting thing....where what is considered to be superstition / prejudice in one culture or even with in same culture to someone who has a better out look beyond her/his own culture, can be day to day way of life. But interesting thing is that culture evolves, many day to day practices over time being identified by the cultures itself to be abandoned. As for example....in many culture discriminating human being on the basis of skin color or gender or religion or language was once completely "ethical" and also part of social norm but over time those got abandoned at least visibly.

        Yes anything is doable if one is open to understand others view, invisible trend in society or culture or things which does not make sense so try to change it ...

        COMMON SENSE (as I feel ) is something that people gathers from their surroundings because of their curious mind that never stops learning so the learn something more which is not written in any book as PRINCIPLE, LAW or Ethics.

        Do you think ETHICS is something universal and constant ?
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    May 15 2013: G'day Anna

    You have just shown how complex it is to be a good judge, they also need the knowledge of a psychotherapist & many other professions as well, making good laws & carrying them out proficiently takes a hell of a lot of talent.

  • May 15 2013: A good judge, whether young or old, must be able to judge people according to their particular skill in that topic. He is not supposed to give more favor to anyone he knows.
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      May 15 2013: "A good judge, whether young or old, must be able to judge people according to their particular skill in that topic." - are you referring to getting a second expert opinion? To the accused? I would say - gather knowledge, opinions and make an impartial decision. Look at the tags, one of them is Ethics, I don't see this taken into consideration in the first part of your comment.

      "He is not supposed to give more favor to anyone he knows." - so true. I believe that's a part of being impartial and independent, but there's always some bias one is not aware of, I tried to come up with a summary of it in a different comment.
      Thanks, Aaron.
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    May 15 2013: A judge have to be PRINCIPLE CENTRIC, to be a good judge always.

    He takes all his decisions based on principles only.

    A good judge can not be money centric, community centric, person centric etc etc. A judge have to be PRINCIPLE CENTRIC, to be a good judge always.
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      May 15 2013: Thank you, Adesh.
      But principles need to be ethics-centric, humane, reason-based and wise, I would add.

      "He takes all his decisions based on principles only." - He or She.
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    May 15 2013: G'day Anna

    Good question!!!!!!!!..........being wise & just which can come from experience/age but not always. Wisdom gives you the capabilities in knowing how to use your own knowledge & knowledge of evidence at any given deliberation/trial. Being just makes one impartial to all circumstances one needs to face while in judgment.

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      May 15 2013: Thank you for your comment, Mathew.

      I agree.
      Could all the traits you're mentioning be characterised as "cognitive capacity" which, together with knowledge of the law (a good rule book as in Pabitras comment) makes a good judge? While still remembering that the point is to be just and ethical? "The opposite of poverty is not wealth, the opposite of poverty is justice", as in Bryan Stevenson's talk?

      Still, some questions remain: who should write the rule book?
      Here's an interesting perspective from a legal scholar on this question and question of ethics:


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        May 15 2013: G'day Anna

        Being a good judge isn't simple, being just a judge is far less complicated.

        The more skilled traits one has the better the judge & this is why not everyone can or should be a judge especially a good judge. Having all these traits that you mention here would have to make a good judge unless they have no scruples/ethics.

        The rule books should be written by judges who have the knowing to pass laws in regard to their knowledge upon what laws need to be written, for example a judge who knows little about a certain subject in which they are writing a particular law about shouldn't participate in writing such laws.

        It's complicated & should remain complicated for law itself is complicated.

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          May 15 2013: Hi again,

          I agree. The more knowledge, the better the judge (see: collective knowledge of UN - Hague and so on, but even there there are mistakes that are made due to the fact that some people just rearrange previous prejudice or preconceptions, mistake their emotions or impressions with logic, confuse critical thinking with just being critical or more... and call it thinking. None of the mentioned phenomena should be present in legal systems (that should be independent of opinions) and judges should be able to tell if they suffer from any of the above or not, I think... Oh dear, did I just try to answer my own question? :)

          Thanks for a helpful comment.
          I agree with you, it is a difficult, demanding job to be a good judge and law is complicated because the world is. That's one of the reasons why judges or anybody with a power of definition should have both knowledge and awareness. The more interdisciplinary and neutral the process of gathering both is, the better.

          Thanks again.
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    May 15 2013: A good rule book makes a good judge.
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      May 15 2013: Thanks for your reply.
      But is it only "a good rule book" that makes a good judge? Or does s/he need something more, as in the question?

      EDIT - just to add a new point - I changed my mind. You're right. But who should write the book of rules?
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        May 15 2013: When the judgment is about violation of a social conduct with possibility of criminal intent, the rule book should be written by the fathers of nations (however debatable the notion of nation be) in the form of Constitution, Civil Codes, Laws, Acts or Ordinances. The first rule of a good such book is : We are open to consider changes in the rules anytime it so warrants. So later on people can also write the rule book. Despite all the qualities that you mentioned when it comes to dispensation of justice, a Judge is only as good as the rule book.
        Since you mean 'judge' as in law, I am not going into the general contexts of judgment.
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          May 15 2013: However:

          - did fathers of nations envisage internet, predictive analytics, other systems? Maybe they could not see past the tip of their nose or their rule of conduct due to natural limits that information flow had when they were alive? When it comes to breaking the rule of conduct - Churchil drank a bottle of whisky a day. Nietszche was found crying and hugging a beaten horse in Italia not long before his death. Can we say that they were not great men or great thinkers because they did not comply by others' rules of conduct, that they had flaws, that they were misunderstood or misjudged? Can we say that Nietszche's compassion for the horse can in any way be understood as possibility of criminal intent? None of the above had a label 'founding father' but does that mean they should be discredited? Can we say that Einstein was not a great man because he had moustache or because his life's work was used in name of aggression, not dialogue? I'm trying to put things in perspective here. I like Caryl's comment that mentions inclusiveness - if Hawking didn't get a chair and a way to communicate because people felt discomfort around MS, the world wouldn't have a great mind now.
          I remember one teacher that I had, he suffered from Parkinson. That was visible. One of the first things he said when introducing himself was "I have two sons", that was a call for acceptance. "Please don't judge me or my head and methods or the human being I am by your first impression, I can do it, I'll prove it to you." We worked like crazy given very little time and huge tasks. He's mentioned by name in a different conversation. If anybody, ever, says to me that this person is of little value because of discomfort or first impressions around him, he would have to deal with me and get a verbal slap of critical thinking.
          In other words - when did it become illegal to be alive?
          Yes, i'm still on the topic of 'judge' as in law, just some thoughts, sorry for any discomfort.
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        May 16 2013: No discomfort Anna :)
        Actually judgment as in law and as in general context are so different that they are spelt differently :)
        Regarding founding fathers of nations. With all due respect to them, Nation (as in Nation state) is an idea that has run its course. The political scientist Benedict Anderson describes nation states as imagined communities. ‘Imagined’, he writes, ‘because members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the mind of each lives the image of their communion.’ If we take constitutions as the rule books and judgments (as in law) based on that rule book, well we can have a villain and a hero in the same person on the two sides of a geo-political border.
        I shall come back to your comment after a day trip that I need to make to my village to mourn the death of my uncle.
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          May 16 2013: Verdict, judgment, sentence, have different semantic/sociolinguistic implications, sorry for ayn splleing mitsakse :)

          Very interesting.
          I'm sure your uncle was a great thinker.
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        May 19 2013: Thanks. My uncle was a simple village farmer who till the day of his death never used chemical fertilizer. My cousins, who are younger and cleverer than him will use it to increase 'production'.
        If you include judgement (the one with an 'e' as Brits do), both my uncle and my cousins seem to have exercised theirs when it comes to interacting with nature and make livelihood. The judgements are different and suitable for them.
        In that way, who is a good judge then? I think one who judges the least to make meaning of life, is a good one.
        Given the liberty, I shall prefer not to judge at all. :)
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          May 19 2013: They were all great thinkers in a way, I think, and a combination of all of them can figure out and find good solutions :)

          "In that way, who is a good judge then? I think one who judges the least to make meaning of life, is a good one.
          Given the liberty, I shall prefer not to judge at all. :)"

          Well said! There's no need for judgment, verdict or anything when no harm is intended or done by or to anybody, especially the innocent :)

          Best wishes!!
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    May 28 2013: A good rule book.
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    May 28 2013: In my view, as I ascertained or percieved during my incompleted law degree time, artificial intelligence will make the best judge!
    Let me explain. If every legal case was entered into a data base and if every legal precedent as well as every legislative/common law definition and punitive determinate was also integrated. Then whenever a new case presented itself, it would be cross referenced by key words and punitive outcomes with a result that would circumvent judicial prejudice, judgemental prejudice/biase or inconsistencies due to it's breadth of coverage.Therefore the best judge or a good judge would be one who is not prejudiced or lacking in precedented information and able therefore to articulate the punishment that has been statistically demonstrated to be that the world community deems fair and equitable by comparatively statistically substanstiated reasoning via the platform of database entered global information! :D
  • May 28 2013: A "good judge" employs the practical wisdom Bryan talks about. But how does one measure the practical wisdom of others? I.e. in the US, we have tried to guarantee impartiality by taking all emotional considerations out of the legal system. But this alone has allowed psychotics to go unrecognized by the law until AFTER they've committed their crimes for their crimes are emotionally based. I don't have the answer but it is of interest to note and ponder.
  • May 24 2013: All your examples combined would definitely make a good judge. One must be impartial, unprejudiced and analytical in order to apply the law towards certain crimes committed. Experience plays a good role, because a judge must look at precedence in specific cases in order to fairly convict a guilty person. This plays hand in hand for a good judge to concentrate on justice rather than conflicts of interest. An experienced judge will focus on justice by understanding the facts and listening to counsel, then using balance of probability to choose the proper form of justice in either a criminal or civil matter in a fair and unbiased manner.
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    May 21 2013: A diffeerent, but related question to the TED-community:

    How are the legal system and medicine/psychiatry/neuroscience/individuality interconnected in your country?
    Can a psychologist, a doctor or any other forces, privately or state owned, render a person insane because the person doesn't "feel" like being like one of us? Shouldn't a good judge be involved at all times? Examples can be provided. How should this be regulated and managed?

    I appreciate all responses and comments.
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      May 25 2013: In India, judiciary is free to decide on that. By legal standards judgments vary for a person who is considered not sane in mind during the time of committing a criminal act (punishment will be substantially less) and lawyers try this to save clients. Judges decide independently any number of experts who will check the accused medically and give witness in the court of law but judges reserve rights to decide ultimately on that testimony. It is very rare for someone accused with a rape/murder to get acquitted by proving insanity. Sometimes they are sent to mental hospitals for life. Certain mental conditions like schizophrenia or split personality disorder are not considered enough insanity.
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      May 21 2013: Just a little juxtaposition:

      To stand in judgment of another person is not what the question was about. The question of guilty/not guilty, verdict, sentence etc. is about law, that was my context.

      I don't think anybody desires to be a judge. If you get this job in a legal system you should be appointed based on reasonable premises, testing of your cognitive qualities, ability to use judgment and reason, listen to different opinions from all sides and apply law. It's a difficult job.

      So - "I personally distrust the motives of anyone that would want to stand in judgement of another person so the best value that I would look for in a judge is their desire to not be a judge." - I agree wholeheartedly.

      Standing in jugdment of another person because of your prejudice of first impression, without checking who the person is, says more about the judge usurping the authority, than about the judge.
      That's how it works in life and in human communication.

      It should never work like that in any legal system or system that claims that it has legal accountability.
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          May 21 2013: Thank you.

          To repeat a different comment of mine - if there is no injustice, there's no need for judges. May seem like a dream, but who knows :)
  • May 21 2013: Hi from turkey..I am a judge in my country..in my opinion if you mean that judge is a state official in a legal system this system must include the law which is inspired from its country facts..yes, the system has Common law or other things but;for example my country has different culture different habits or life styles so what people needs or what are their occasion must shape the judge..