The Judicial Ethics Committee of the General Council of the Judiciary has recently (on February 25, 2019) issued an Opinion addressing Consultation 10/2018, raised in relation to the use of social networks by judges who frequently use Twitter, Facebook, Instragram, Linkedin or other social networks, in which they present themselves not as private citizens, but as holders of the Judiciary, and whether or not such interventions are in accordance with the Principles of Judicial Ethics approved on December 16, 2016.
The conclusions of an extensive and detailed Opinion analyzing the intervention of judges in social networks and its implication on the ethical principles of the Judiciary, are as follows:
- The participation of judges in social networks is not contrary to the Principles of Judicial Ethics, but the way they present themselves and intervene may generate risks in relation to respect for the principles of judicial ethics, which may be affected in any case, even if they do not identify themselves as judges.
- Judges may publicly present themselves as such on social networks. But they should make a prior ethical assessment of the way they present themselves and evaluate to what extent their identification on social networks as members of the Judiciary, either directly or indirectly through an alias, may condition the contents, opinions or behavior they make public on these social networks, as well as their reactions to publications by third parties.
- In any case, the intervention of judges in social networks must be governed by prudence, and must take special care to preserve the appearance of impartiality.
- The expression of opinions, comments and reactions by judges on social networks can seriously affect the appearance of independence and impartiality, as well as reflecting a conduct that must preserve the dignity of the judicial function. Therefore, there is a correlative ethical duty to be extremely careful when expressing their opinions, making personal assessments and reacting to other people’s publications, whenever there is a reasonable possibility that they may be recognized as members of the Judiciary.
- In any case, judges should avoid any reference to issues directly or indirectly related to the matters they are hearing.
- The use by the judge of formulas of contact with third parties in social networks is likely to generate an appearance of favoritism. This risk is even more relevant in contact with professionals linked to the Administration of Justice who have any intervention or possibility of intervention in the court or tribunal where the judge exercises his or her functions. In order to avoid this appearance, judges must assess the appropriateness of not establishing or interrupting those contacts that could contribute to generate it.
- There is no ethical obligation per se to limit the contacts that judges maintain on social networks. It will be the elementary prudence, which should govern the exercise of the judge’s freedom of expression, which should advise him/her on the extent and plurality in the use of the formulas of contact with third parties.
- The Commission should not replace the judge in the assessment of his or her own conduct and its impact on the Principles of Judicial Ethics. However, within the role of interpretation of such principles, we believe that the judge’s participation in social networks must be governed, in general, by prudence and restraint.
- In the relationship with other users of social networks, and in particular when debates on controversial issues arise, the principle of courtesy should inform ethically any action of the judge to the extent that it contributes to promote a positive attitude of respect and trust of society in the judiciary.
- Therefore, prudence and courtesy should determine the terms and tone of participation in the debate and the decision, if any, to continue the conversation or to end it.