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, we know of five more that have been set up since, and more countries, such as Armenia are debating their establishment.
Impunity of large-scale corruption cases and the transnational nature of corruption has also led to calls for an international anti-corruption court (IACC). In early 2019, the Columbian government, followed by Peru, called for the establishment of such a court and making it a key discussion item in the 2021 UN General Assembly session on corruption. The December 2019 U4 Brief An international Anti-Corruption Court? A synopsis of the debate discusses the main arguments in favour, and the two main lines of criticism: 1) An IACC is not politically feasible (mechanisms for pressuring countries to join this institution would do more harm than good), and 2) An IACC – even if successfully established – would not be sufficiently effective in combating grand corruption to justify its costs.
At U4 we will follow the continuation of this debate, all the while collecting further evidence on and experience with national anti-corruption courts.
Specialised anti-corruption courts
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 series of U4 Briefs, we publish case studies discussing design and performance of anti-corruption courts. The cases on Madagascar, Slovakia, Uganda, and 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.
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 Ukraine.