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Court Watch Programs

This page provides inks and information about programs from other jurisdictions containing possible useful infomation and guidelines for court watch programs. Note that many such programs deal with political and special interest issues and family court matters (including partisan political matters, child custody and abuse, human trafficking, etc) rather than criminal cases involving government corruption. This page seeks to provide information related to the latter as much as possible; however, experiences and techniques from any court watch program may be useful in initiating a new anti-corruotion court watch program.

COURT WATCH Definition

program to make courts accountable: a community program set up to allow concerned citizens to observe trial proceedings in order to ensure the effectiveness of the legal system and the competency and fairness of judges

THE SLIDE SHOW below has been prepared for court watch programs related to human abuse but is applicable in general to any such program.


The goals of court-watchers vary. Some aim to remove unfair judges. Others want to promote public scrutiny of the judicial system. Several groups monitor judges to determine whether they should be supported for re-election or have action taken against them. For example, in Dallas, Texas, the Committee for a Qualified Judiciary works to ensure that candidates with exceptional credentials are elected to local judgeships. They educate the public about judicial candidates, believing it is better and easier to elect a good judge initially then to try and remove a poor one later.

Some court-watching groups put pressure on judges they consider to be unprofessional, unfair or otherwise unsuitable. In response to the high crime rate in Oakland, California, a group of court-watchers organized as Citizens for Law and Order, work for the removal of judges they believe are not strict enough in sentencing convicted defendants.

Other court-watching groups focus their efforts on procedural matters. They look for mistakes or abuses in how the courts operate; judges who are routinely late for court, take too many recesses, or fail to discipline misbehavior in the courtrooms. One court-watching group in New York City, for example, reported witnessing a judge flipping a coin to determine how long a sentence to impose on a convicted criminal. Court-watchers also look for misconduct by private and government attorneys.

Some court-watching projects target a specific judge or crime to focus on. One nationally prominent group, MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), has organized and implemented court-watching campaigns to monitor drunk-driving cases.

The Cook County Court-Watching Project in Chicago, an independent organization affiliated with the League of Women Voters, has established a program that trains volunteers in what to look for in courtroom proceedings and how to gather and record data about each case.

Once the information is compiled, court-watching groups publicize and use their findings in a variety of ways. Some summarize their data and make recommendations for improving the courts, including letters and reports to court officials, parole boards, newspapers, radio and television stations, elected representatives and judges. These recommendations can focus on anything from general courtroom procedures and calendaring to complaints about abusive conduct in a particular court.

Other, more drastic measures to which court-watchers have resorted include initiating a recall drive of an elected judge and placing an advertisement in a local newspaper to criticize the mishandling of a case. Positive measures are also taken, such as awarding certificates to judges or prosecutors the court-watchers determine are exemplary public servants. http://www.halt.org/lic/art.php?aid=31


Tips on starting a court monitoring program

The thought of starting a court monitoring program may seem daunting. But by building on your experience and meeting with others knowledgeable about your courts, you can develop a program to create lasting change in your justice system. Here are some hints.

Do your research and start to gather allies

Start by meeting with people who are familiar with your local courts, including...advocacy groups...They may be sources of community support or volunteers, and may have knowledge of previous attempts to monitor the courts in your area.

Talk with key members of your justice system

We recommend interviewing court personnel to let them know what you are doing, get their feedback, and identify concerns.

Identify courts and cases to be watched

If you are considering court monitoring, you are probably aware of many problems that you could address, but don’t try to do everything at once. We recommend that you keep your focus narrow to start. Develop simple court monitoring forms that are easy for volunteers to complete and for you to analyze.

Recruit and train volunteers

Volunteers can be trained in a group or one-on-one, depending on your needs. Make sure volunteers understand their role as observers, and your expectations.

Manual: Developing a Court Monitoring Program

The Developing a Court Monitoring Program manual provides all the tools you need to start a court monitoring program, including:

�� A step-by-step guide to deciding on your program structure and assessing you or your agency’s capacity for starting a court monitoring program.

�� Ideas on what courts to watch and what to watch for, including ideas and advice from programs across the country.

�� Information on managing court monitoring data, including how to collect, store and analyze court monitoring forms.

�� Strategies for engaging with others to promote system-wide change.

�� PowerPoint presentations and activities for volunteer training and community education.

�� An extensive appendix of resource materials and much more!

Manual: Managing Court Monitor Volunteers

The Managing Court Monitor Volunteers manual provides an in-depth look at running a court monitoring volunteer program, including:

�� Ready-to-print volunteer recruitment flyers, applications, and screening materials as well as information on creating volunteer guidelines and strategies for recruiting and retaining volunteers.

�� A CD with nine PowerPoint presentations to use at your volunteer training as well as sample training activities, continuing education sessions, recommended reading, and helpful websites.

�� Information on briefing and debriefing volunteer court monitors, ensuring accuracy of monitoring notes, and using technology to enhance your volunteer program.

�� Information on raising funds for your program including sample solicitation letters and grant language.

NOTE: The above two manuals relate to programs specifically directed to making the justice system more effective and responsive in handling cases of violence against women and children, and to create a more informed and involved public. However, they may be useful in setting up any tyupe court monitoring program. WATCH also offers training, webinars, and other tools for court monitoring programs. For more information go to:  http://www.watchmn.org/training



Judges should:

  • administer justice fairly, ethically, uniformly, promptly and efficiently;
  • be free from personal bias when making decisions and decide cases based on the proper application of law;
  • issue prompt rulings that can be understood and make decisions that demonstrate competent legal analysis;
  • act with dignity, courtesy and patience; and
  • effectively manage their courtrooms and the administrative responsibilities of their office.

What is court monitoring and what are the benefits?

What is court monitoring?  Court monitoring is a process of observing and gathering information on the courts. Monitoring includes observing real time court proceedings as well as conducting research and investigation of the court, its practices and procedures.

Why monitor?  Systems that go unmonitored tend to serve their own purposes. Monitoring promotes an open and transparent court process and holds the system accountable for protecting victim and public safety. Monitoring also engages the public to take responsibility for the justice system. This strengthens our democracy and the well being of our society.

Benefits of monitoring  Monitoring provides a consistent and on-going public presence with an independent viewpoint. Court monitor groups can provide feedback on individual cases, supports policy efforts, and shed light on gaps in the system

Challenges to monitoring   Court monitoring groups have a limited role. They can make recommendations but can’t implement them. This makes partnering with members of the criminal justice system a critical part of court monitoring. Also, improving the courts is a continual process and takes time. http://www.watchmn.org/sites/default/files/What%20is%20court%20monitoring%20and%20what%20are%20its%20benefits.pdf


Canada Court Watch: A program of the National Association for Public and Private Accountability that believes that regulation of the judicial system must include meaningful participation by laypersons from the community

Judicial Watch, Inc. (USA),a conservative, non-partisan educational foundation, promotes transparency, accountability and integrity in government, politics and the law.

Kansas Judicial Watch,NGO formed to expose arbitrary, capricious and outrageous decisions of the Kansas courts and to report whether the statutes, laws and case precedents of the State of Kansas are being applied fairly, consistently and evenly...

WATCH an NGO whose mission is to make the justice system more effective and responsive in handling cases of violence against women and children, and to create a more informed and involved public. Every day trained WATCH volunteers observe court and report on what they see. WATCH follows up with court staff and committees to recommend improvements. Our experience shows that when the public is present in court, everyone does a better job...WATCH supports court monitoring across the U. S. with on-site and web-based training

CourtWatch Florida: As impartial observers of the judicial system, CourtWatchers document their observations and impressions. This information will be compiled and a report that details our findings will presented to the Court and the community.

COURT WATCH of Families Against Court Travesties, Inc. an NGO formed to improve the family court system and to prevent future injustices against children, women and families.

CITY OF CLEVELAND COURT WATCH PROGRAM to help Clevelanders gain a better understanding of how the court system works. Through the presence of a unified community, judges will understand that it is expected that perpetrators be held fully responsible for their actions and punished accordingly.

List of National Court WATCH Programs and Projects in the USA with websites and contact information, Updated June 2009 (PDF, 13 pp.)




Survey of Attorneys About Trial Judges, Kansas Comission on Judicial Performance(USA)

Survey of Non-Attorneys About Trial Judges, Kansas Commission on Judicial Performance (USA)

Complaint Against a Judge Form, Kansas Commission on Judicial Qualifications (USA)

A Guide to Recording Your Own Court Hearing, Canada Court Watch

A Local Criminal Court Watch Program

Marion County (Indianapolis, Indiana, USA)

Begun  in response to continuous complaints from community residents and street-level police officers concerning the "revolving-door" nature of the Marion County criminal justice system. The program is designed to bring the residents of neighborhoods into the courtroom to convey the reallife impact of the particular criminal offenses or offenders that most directly affect the quality of life in the neighborhoods. Consisting of a partnership between the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office and residents of the neighborhoods that the office serves, the program’s objective is to persuade all of the actors within the Marion County criminal court system to take a more proactive role in preventing crime in the community by imposing meaningful sentences on offenders who chronically victimize the community.

Court Watch focuses primarily on lowlevel, chronic offenders who have several cases pending within the system, who frequently violate conditions of pre-trial release by committing new criminal offenses, and who have a reputation within the neighborhoods for being consistent troublemakers.

Residents who are Court Watch members receive a weekly list of court hearings scheduled on Court Watch cases. The community prosecutor and paralegal work closely with Court Watch members to educate them about the criminal court process and to resolve any confusion stemming from the intricacies of the system.

Residents are encouraged to attend bond review and sentencing hearings because they often possess additional information about a particular case or offender that is pertinent to issues raised during such hearings. During these hearings, residents are often called to testify about the impact of offenses suc h as prostitution, criminal trespass, or drug-related misdemeanors and felonies, and the relationship between these offenses or offenders and other criminal activity in the neighborhood.

Court Watch members may attend as many or as few court hearings as their schedules permit. Although court bailiffs do their best to get Court Watch cases called before the judge as soon as possible, members should set aside about three (3) hours for each hearing. Members are encouraged to bring reading materials to occupy their time while waiting for the case to be called before the judge.

Weekly Court Watch reports contain case information including the factual basis of the charged offenses, the name and phone number of the trial prosecutor assigned to the case, the date and time of the next court hearing, and the location and the phone number for the court room in which the hearing is to be held

Background Information on Judicial corruption

On January 25, 2005, and on December 10, 2006, Philippines Social Weather Stations released the results of its 2 surveys on corruption in the judiciary; it published that: a) like 1995, 1/4 of lawyers said many/very many judges are corrupt. But (49%) stated that a judges received bribes, just 8% of lawyers admitted they reported the bribery, because they could not prove it. [Tables 8-9]; judges, however, said, just 7% call many/very many judges as corrupt[Tables 10-11];b) "Judges see some corruption; proportions who said - many/very many corrupt judges or justices: 17% in reference to RTC judges, 14% to MTC judges, 12% to Court of Appeals justices, 4% i to Shari'a Court judges, 4% to Sandiganbayan justices and 2% in reference to Supreme Court justices [Table 15].[

The September 14, 2008, Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC) survey, ranked the Philippines 6th (6.10) among corrupt Asian judicial systems. PERC stated that "despite India and the Philippines being democracies, expatriates did not look favourably on their judicial systems because of corruption." PERC reported Hong Kong and Singapore have the best judicial systems in Asia, with Indonesia and Vietnam the worst: Hong Kong's judicial system scored 1.45 on the scale (zero representing the best performance and 10 the worst); Singapore with a grade of 1.92, followed by Japan (3.50), South Korea (4.62), Taiwan (4.93), the Philippines (6.10), Malaysia (6.47), India (6.50), Thailand (7.00), China (7.25), Vietnam's (8.10) and Indonesia (8.26).

In the September 23, 2008, Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (global survey ranking countries in terms of perceived corruption), the Philippines dropped to 141st, down 10 places from 2007, among 180 countries surveyed. It scored a 2.3 in the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), lower than 2007's 2.5, on a scale where 10 is the highest possible gradeVincent Lazatin, TAN executive director, said: “We are compared to our nearest neighbors Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam, with Vietnam seen as eventually overtaking us in a few years. The difference is that (in other countries) when business sets aside money to grease the wheels, they know that they will get what they paid for. In the Philippines, there is no certainty."[34] (Source Wikipedia.com)

SWS Study of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession Sees Some Improvements, But Also Recurring Problems, 25 January 2005

Diagnostic Study Sets Guideposts for Systematic Development of the Judiciary, 10 December 2006

Court Performance Evaluation
The following links provde some criteria that might be used in Court Watch programs as well as potential problems that may arise based upon experience of other countries in court performance evealuation

How To Assess Quality in the Courts. (March 2006). Quality Benchmarks for Adjudication are a means for the Improvement of the Activity of the Courts. The Court of Appeal of Rovaniemi, Finland (PDF, 12 pp.)

Defining Optimal Court Performance: The Trial Court Performance Standards, Arlington, Virginia, USA

Performance Measurement Resource Guide of the US National Center for State Courts

Ten Reasons Court Watch may be Resisted

that Court Watchers must be prepared to answer

(adapted from Ten Reasons Not To Measure Court Performance - see below)

Court Watch:

  1. Threatens Judicial Independence
  2. Nothing More Than a “Gotcha” Game
  3. Is Inherently Misguided Because Courts Have Little Control of Outcomes
  4. Uniqueness of Our Court Defies Observation by Outsiders (There’s No Way to Understand What We Do)
  5. Is an Invitation to Unfavorable and Unfair Comparisons
  6. Reports will Be Misused
  7. Results Will Be Used to Hurt, Not Help
  8. Is Good for Problem Diagnosis But Not Cure
  9. Is Too Expensive
  10. Could Vulgarize Jurisprudence

Ten Reasons Not To Measure Court Performance - Full text

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