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Judicial conduct

German judges drafting their own ethics codex

Germany's top judges say they're drafting a code of conduct for those who give spare-time lectures or work for corporations after leaving the bench. They deny they were prompted by a Volkswagen payout to an ex-judge.

Deutschland Andreas Voßkuhle Bundesverfassungsgericht verhandelt über Griechenland-Hilfe (picture alliance/dpa/U. Deck)

Vosskuhle (center) said the ethics code would be advisory only

Should judges in Germany's top court make extra money giving speeches, or take up lucrative jobs in the commercial sector after their time on the bench? After controversy surrounding such issues, the judges are working on a non-binding code of ethics to issue guidelines on these questions.

Presiding top judge Andreas Vosskuhle said he and his 15 Constitutional Court colleagues, with input from ex-judges, were drafting conduct rules, but said that they would not include scope for sanctions if someone were to breach the guidelines.

"Questions of morality and ethnics are difficult to adjudicate," Vosskuhle said. "Every judge is free to (use the codex as orientation), also former judges."

Former constitutional court judge Christine Hohmann-Dennhardt and Volkswagen elicited public umbrage last month when it emerged that she was to receive 12 million euros ($12.7 million) in  severance payafter a short stint at VW.

The judge-turned-compliance chief had joined Volkswagen only one year earlier to straighten out the German auto giant amid its"dieselgate" scandal.

Hohmann-Dennhardt's departure in January came unexpectedly. VW sources told the "Süddeutsche Zeitung" newspaper that she had run into opposition over her efforts to shed light on the emissions scam.

Deutschland Wolfsburg VW Christine Hohmann-Dennhardt, Vorstand fuer Integritaet und Recht (picture-alliance/Citypress 24/Hay)

Volkwagens former compliance chief Christine Hohmann-Dennhardt

VW responded to public outrage by acknowledging that it was considering a cap on executive pay and bonuses.

At a press conference on Tuesday evening in Karlsruhe, the seat of Germany's top courts, Vosskuhle said the drafting of the codex was not a response to any specific incident.

Judicial sources quoted by the news agency AFP said the proposal was prompted more by activities of former constitutional court president Hans-Jürgen Papier.

Since leaving office in 2010, Papier has accepted commissions for compiling legal assessments on numerous issues, including the phasing out of Germany's nuclear power plants.

He also taught as a professor in Munich until his retirement and was often vocal in public debate on issues such as Germany's refugee policies.

To ensure their independence, Germany's 16 constitutional court judges - grouped within two panels called "senates" in German - are appointed for 12 years. Judges are supposed to serve only one term. They must be aged between 40 and 68 years.

Another former court president, Jutta Limbach, who died in 2016, served as president of Germany's cultural entity, the Goethe-Institute - mainly with representative and supervisory functions.

ipj/msh (dpa, AFP, KNA)

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