The Judiciary | Definition | Features | Functions

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The Judiciary | Definition | Features | Functions of the Judicial Arms of Government

The Judiciary is sometimes referred to as the court system. It is that branch of government that is responsible for the rule adjudication and interpretation in a state.

The Judiciary interprets the laws made by the legislative arms of government and implemented by the executive branch of government. The courts will, however, only apply the law to cases brought before it.

The judiciary comprises the Bench (judges) and the Bar (lawyers).

Judiciary Arms of Government
Judiciary Arms of Government

Meaning of Judiciary as an Organ of Government

The Judiciary is the system of courts that interprets and applies the law. The judiciary also provides a mechanism for the resolution of disputes. Under the doctrine of the separation of powers, the judiciary generally does not make law (in a plenary fashion which is the responsibility of the legislature) or enforce law (which is the responsibility of the executive) but rather interprets law and applies it to the facts of each case.

This branch of the state is often tasked with ensuring equal justice under law. It usually consists of a court of final appeal (called the “Supreme court“). together with lower courts.

In many jurisdictions the judicial branch has the power to change laws through the process of judicial review. Courts with judicial review power may annul the laws and rules of the state when it finds them incompatible with a higher norm such as primary legislation, the provisions of the constitution or international law.

Many times, courts are seen only as arbitrators in disputes between individuals or private panics. Judiciary however, performs some key roles in political systems.


Judiciary – Judicial Branch of Government
Structure of the Judiciary in a State Independence of the Judiciary
Powers and Functions of the Judiciary Limitations on the Exercise of Judicial Powers

Functions of the Judiciary | Arm of Government

  • Interpretation of laws: The judge interprets the laws of the state and applies the existing law to individual cases.
  • Settlement of disputes: The courts deal with cases between private individuals and the government. Both Criminal and civil cases are settled in the courts.
  • Punishment of offenders: The courts have the power to punish those that have offended the laws of the state.
  • Prevention of wrongful acts: By means of writ and restraining order, courts act to prevent violation of law.
  • Safe guarding the rights of citizens: The judiciary safeguards the rights and liberties of individuals, by way of entertaining complaints from aggrieved people.
  • Protection of the constitution: The judiciary has the power to determine whether the constitution has been violated or not.
  • Power of review: The judiciary is vested with the power to review some of the activities of the executive and the legislature.

Features of the Judiciary in a State

Characteristics of the Judiciary arm of government in modern Democratic/Republic state are:

  1. The Judiciary is a permanent institution inherited by successive governments. It’s terms do not end at the end of any political regime or tenure.
  2. The Judiciary is made independent of the executive and the legislature, in order to avoid undue interferences and delays in the judicial process and to promote separation of power.
  3. Judiciary is politically neutrality. Judges do not engage in partisan politics but rather acts as an arbiter in cases of political disagreements.
  4. The Judiciary is impartial to the extent that it is not a creation of the executive or legislature and so cannot be influenced by them.
  5. The Judiciary is made up of judges who are legal experts. This enhances the integrity and efficiency of jurists.
  6. Judges enjoy judicial immunity in the performance of their duties.
  7. The Judiciary has prescribed code of conduct in integrity.
  8. Stable tenure of office of Judges untill there retirement unless they are found guilty of any corrupt practices or ill health.
  9. The Judiciary operates according to laid down procedure or precedence.

The Judicial Office Holder – Reliability & Competencies

The independence of judiciary is also incumbent on the caliber of people who occupy judicial offices. Professor Schwartz reaffirms this position:

…the quality of justice depends more upon the quality of the men who administer the law than on the content of the law they administer. Unless those appointed to the Bench are competent and upright and free to judge without fear or favour, a judicial system however sounds its structure may be on paper, is bound to function poorly in practice.

1. Appropriate Appointment of Judges

The appointment of judges should not be politically motivated. There should be competent appointment machinery that will recommend the appointment of judges to the other organs of government for approval.

2. Security of Tenure and Promotion

Provisions should be made to ensure the security of tenure of judges so that judicial officers will be free to do their job without any political influence from any other arm of government. Arbitrary removal of judges will have an adverse effect on the administration of justice.

3. Salaries / Wages

In order to prevent interference in the affairs of the judiciary by the executive, it is advisable and important to provide a financial autonomy for judiciary through the consolidated fund.

4. Democratic and Constitutional Governance

The independence of judiciary is very unlikely during military involvement in politics.

5. Secuity of Life and Property of Judicial Officers

There should be state protection of life and property of judges through provision of adequate security facilities.

6. Respect for Rule of Law

Independence of judiciary can also be guaranteed where there is unrestricted and unlimited respect for rule of law irrespective of class, sex, ethnic background. religion. race and colour.

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