Judicial profession and career are commonly linked with prestige and high respect in society. What usually is not captured by the eye of the outsiders is the high level of responsibility, considerate workload and continuous exposure to stress caused by a variety of factors faced by all judges. This understanding of real conditions in which the judges operate leads various countries to include (or to consider including) assessment of psychological competences in the selection process of judicial candidates at the beginning of the judicial career.
Diverse psychological assessment techniques to a varying extent are introduced in the judicial selection process. The Model on selection, promotion and evaluation of judges, developed by an international group of experts within the framework of the project “Portrait of a Judge” allows to identify that the psychological competences sought for in a judge include: emotional stability, stress tolerance and stress management skills, but also ability to cope with workload and psychological fitness in general.
The significance psychological fitness of judges both, when entering the career and throughout it was also covered in the international conference “International Experiences and Advanced Practices of the Selection, Evaluation and Promotion of Judges”, where one of the leading professionals in the area, a psychiatrist and an associate professor of Vilnius university Mr. Eugenijus Laurinaitis, who had also previously served as a chairperson for Selection commission of judges in Lithuania, delivered a presentation on How to measure personality, and was further developed in the panel discussion which followed.
Prof. Laurinaitis noted that naturally, when selecting candidates for the judicial office one has to take into account the desirable psychological characteristics. The difficulty though, lies in the fact that at this point the science may not yet offer very reliable tools to measure these characteristics. Even more, human brain is so flexible that techniques, which may trick the measuring methods, are easily learned. The professor therefore made a point, that the most reliable method for measuring psychological competences of a candidate is an evaluation of previous behavior in critical situations. But even then, the difficulty for the candidates’ selection body usually lies in singling out the facts on behavior from the mere perceptions of others. Thus, currently science has limitations, which should be known and accepted in the judicial candidates’ selection process.
In a panel discussion that followed, Mr. Georg Stawa shared an example of Austria, where an assessment of psychological competences became a part of a judicial selection process after serious crimes were committed by judges, who held the office. Furthermore, a concern was shared by the panelists that psychological assessment of the judges is only carried out in the beginning of a judicial career, which in Europe would normally be at the age of 26 or 28 – the time, when a development from adolescence to adulthood just finishes. Both Mr. Georg Stawa and prof. Eugenijus Laurinatis have agreed that a judicial career is a long one, and a judge naturally goes through challenging and difficult situations and periods in his or her private life throughout it. Therefore, an assessment of psychological development and situation of a judge at a later stage in his or her career would be beneficial. Also, aid mechanisms that would allow a judge to seek for help, when necessary, should be readily available. An idea was also shared that management of the court should be sensitive to such personal situations and be proactive in providing additional assistance to judges.
Conclusion may be drawn that while assessment of psychological competences is an important factor and should be a part of a judicial selection procedure, this assessment should be followed up at the later stages of the judicial career and, even more, proper support and aid mechanisms for working judges should be available.