Anti-corruption courts

An increasing number of countries have a special judicial body, division, or set of judges with a substantial or exclusive focus on corruption-related cases. These courts vary in their main objectives and in important aspects of their design.

In a 2016 mapping exercise U4 found about 20 existing specialised courts, and more countries are debating their establishment. For example, the Global Anticorruption Blog describe how demands for a specialised court in Ukraine is an essential step in addressing the country’s systemic corruption problem. But they also warn that it is by no means a silver bullet.

One of the most recent efforts to set up anti-corruption courts is from Madagascar. Read about how the government aims for these courts to be effective and independent.

There is great variation in how specialised anti-corruption courts operate. Models range from individual judges with special authorisation to hear corruption cases, to special branches or divisions and separate, stand-alone units within the judicial hierarchy. In a 2016 series, U4 published case studies discussing design and performance of anti-corruption courts. The cases on Slovakia, Uganda, the Philippines show examples of courts as special branches or divisions. Indonesia has a stand-alone unit with its Court for Corruption Crimes.

The most common argument made for special anti-corruption courts is the need for efficient resolution of corruption cases. Reformers want to signal to domestic and international audiences that the country is serious about anti-corruption efforts. Sometimes concerns about whether regular courts can handle corruption cases impartially – without being corrupted – is an important factor. This was the case in Indonesia.

Do we need special anti-corruption courts?

Before deciding whether to adopt a specialised anti-corruption court – and its institutional set-up – it is crucial to evaluate the reasons why specialisation is needed. Reformers should also analyse the political, legal, and institutional environment to identify potential constraints or influence on the court's operations.

Design choices and important questions

Reformers need to keep mind the reasons for setting up a specialised court when considering important design choices such as:

  • Where to place the anti-corruption court in the judicial hierarchy.
  • How large the court should be – the number of judges.
  • The substantive scope of the anti-corruption court's jurisdiction.
  • The relationship between the specialised anti-corruption court and the specialised anti-corruption prosecutor –such as the country’s anti-corruption agency, if one exists.

They also need to consider whether to...

  • make any special provision for the selection, removal, or working conditions of the anti-corruption court judges, and
  • adopt substantially different procedures for the anti-corruption courts compared to similar criminal cases in regular courts.

Special procedures may be necessary if inadequate procedures in the general court system are part of the reason for specialisation, and if those procedures cannot or should not be changed generally.

You can read in-depth discussions of the choices made for existing courts in our series of case studies on Slovakia, Uganda, the Philippines, and Indonesia.

Anti-corruption court legislation

We have collected statutes on anti-corruption courts ranging from the oldest specialised anti-corruption court in the Philippines – to the currently youngest in Madagascar.