One of the most sensitive tasks in a constitutional democracy is the selection and appointment of judges. In contrast with the frequently confrontational US processes, or the 'tap on the shoulder' by a government minister that was the norm for so long in the UK and its former colonies, the Cape Town Principles focus on a 'third way' of appointing judges. This is to entrust the task to an independent commission with a broad membership in which judges themselves, and the legal profession, also have a say. Such bodies, most often called Judicial Service Commissions or Judicial Appointment Commissions, have become by far the most popular mechanism by which senior judges are appointed in Commonwealth jurisdictions. By 2015, more than 80% of Commonwealth member states had established such bodies, according to Bingham Centre research.
The Cape Town Principles are the outcome of an international research project which brought together scholars from Canada, Kenya, Malaysia, Nigeria, South Africa and the UK to examine the processes by which judges are appointed in their countries. The project was led by Bingham Centre Fellow, Professor Hugh Corder of the University of Cape Town Law Faculty, and was carried out by the University of Cape Town in collaboration with the Bingham Centre. It was funded by the Claude Leon Foundation.
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