WEO Weekly: A New Era in Legal Ethics

by | Nov 14, 2023

On 13 November 2023, the US Supreme Court adopted a Code of Conduct. Codes of ethics for courts play a pivotal role in upholding the integrity, impartiality, and fairness of the judicial system. These codes serve as guiding principles, outlining the conduct expected from judges, court personnel, and other stakeholders within the legal framework. Emphasizing the fundamental tenets of justice, such as transparency, accountability, and respect for the rule of law, these codes ensure the public’s trust in the judiciary.

Ethical guidelines for courts can address issues like conflicts of interest, confidentiality, and the avoidance of bias, reinforcing the notion that justice should be blind and impartial. Judges, as key figures in the legal process, are held to high standards to ensure that their decisions are based on law rather than personal beliefs or external influences.

Moreover, these codes serve as a safeguard against corruption and misconduct, promoting a culture of integrity within the judicial system. By setting clear expectations and consequences for unethical behavior, these codes contribute to a judiciary that is not only competent but also morally sound.

Supreme Court to adopt ethics code after scrutiny of undisclosed gifts
The Supreme Court announced its intention to adopt a 15-page code of conduct in response to heightened scrutiny over the lack of disclosure regarding gifts and trips. The code, which addresses concerns about the justices operating without oversight, largely codifies existing principles. It outlines five “canons” or rules, emphasizing the avoidance of impropriety and the appearance thereof. The code restricts political activity, fundraising, and speaking engagements associated with political entities or groups with a financial interest in a case before the court. The move follows reports of undisclosed luxury trips and gifts involving justices, prompting calls for congressional oversight. Chief Justice John Roberts has directed court officers to examine “best practices” as part of the code’s implementation, marking the first time the Supreme Court has officially established rules for its conduct.

AI and ethics: Business leaders know it’s important, but concerns linger
Tech billionaire Tom Siebel, CEO of C3.ai, emphasizes concerns about AI risks, especially in warfare. C3.ai, providing AI applications to companies like Shell and the U.S. defense, avoids business with non-democratic allies due to potential misuse of AI. A survey shows increasing worries among Americans about AI, citing bias, hallucinations, and drift as potential issues. Despite concerns, half of organizations consider risk factors when adopting AI. Experts stress the need for human oversight, transparency, and ethical AI development. Companies like IBM and SAP focus on responsible AI, and new startups aim to establish trust and accountability in AI applications.

2023 Elizabeth D. Rockwell Prize awarded for Best Article on Ethics, Leadership and Public Policy
The 2023 Elizabeth D. Rockwell Prize for Best Article on Ethics, Leadership, and Public Policy has been awarded to Helen Frowe for “Assisting the Assisters: The Comparative Claims of Afghan Refugees.” Frowe explores the justifiability of prioritizing the evacuation of Afghan assisters during the Western military withdrawal from Afghanistan. The first runner-up is Joseph Millum for “Should Health Research Funding be Proportional to the Burden of Disease?” He examines the allocation of health research resources based on disease burdens, defending a severity-weighted proportional view. Both articles were praised for their rigorous ethical analysis and practical relevance to policy decisions.

Portugal’s central bank chief faces ethics review after being proposed as PM

Portugal’s central bank governor, Mário Centeno, faces an ethics review as he is proposed as the next prime minister by former Premier António Costa, who resigned amid a corruption scandal. The president, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, rejected Centeno’s appointment and called for a general election. The central bank’s ethics commission will examine potential conflicts of interest. Centeno clarified that he was invited to reflect on the conditions for becoming premier, but the president’s office disputes the claim. Centeno, previously named head of the central bank in 2020, is viewed by some as aligned with the Socialist party. The corruption probe involves high-profile foreign investment projects, and Costa, denying wrongdoing, resigned following police raids and arrests. The president declared a general election for March 10.

Can a global framework regulate AI Ethics? The UK’s AI Safety Summit
The UK recently hosted the inaugural Global AI Safety Summit, focusing on the governance of artificial intelligence (AI) at an international level. Prime Minister Sunak highlighted the need for collaborative regulation of AI, culminating in the Bletchley Declaration, signed by major nations, including Germany, the US, and China. This commitment aims to enhance cooperation in developing and regulating AI technologies. The current regulatory landscape relies on “soft law” principles, like the OECD guidelines and the EU’s proposed AI Act. The Bletchley Declaration underscores concerns about AI’s global risks and advocates for collaboration, prompting speculation about the potential for a binding global regulatory framework. Balancing ethical standards with innovation poses a challenge, with nations adopting diverse regulatory approaches. The EU’s AI Act illustrates the delicate balance between regulation and fostering innovation, emphasizing the need for international collaboration in AI governance.