During the Nazi reign the judges passed judgments without morals, however, they were still acting within the contemporary legal framework. The laws made by the Nazis were immoral and beyond what anyone could imagine being right. An example is shown in the film by two cases, the Peterson case and the Feldenstein case. The first of these was an amalgamation of cases concerning sterilisation of people such as Jews, Gypsies and those with hereditary diseases and a low mental capacity.
The second case was based the Katzenberger case10, which dealt with the relationships between Jews and Germans, where a Jewish man was sentenced to death and a German woman was imprisoned due to the fact that they were friends. Both of these cases show how the judges at the time had a role which did not concern any morals whatsoever. After all it is not moral to kill someone for having a friend or to sterilise someone for being a member or a certain religion or race. The film also carries the theme of the use of law as a political tool. During the Nazi period this was indeed the case.
Germans had to swear an oath stating "I swear that I shall be obedient, to the leader of the German Reich and people, Adolf Hitler. That I shall be loyal to him, that I will observe the laws and that I will conscientiously fulfil my duties so help me god". 11 If they were to protest against this then they were forced to resign. Hitler used this oath and his power in the courts to carry out his political aims. As stated by Dr Wieck in the film "After [Hitler] judges became subject to something outside of objective justice. They became subject to what was necessary for the protection of the country…
The result was to hand over the administration of justice into the hands of the dictatorship". 12 The role of the judge became to serve the state. Judges were regarded as civil servants rather than an independent mean for supplying justice. The role became solely to support the political regime. The film also considers the relationship between justice and legal positivism in more detail during the closing statements from the defendants. One of them, Friedrich Hoffstetter, stated "I followed the concept that I believed to be the highest in my profession, to sacrifice one's own sense of justice to the authoritative legal order.
To ask only what the law is and not to ask whether or not it is also justice. As a judge I could do no other. "13 This looks at how the judge's role should be one of following the laws made and nothing else. As stated by Eli Nathans, "Believing themselves bound to the letter of the law, courts and prosecutor obeyed politically and racially repressive laws without asking moral questions"14. The theory of legal positivism looks at how the legislature is more authoritative and how the laws are simply to be applied. A judge's own personal views, including those on justice should be set aside as his role is to apply the law without question.
Hoffstetter's statement is indeed in line with this theory, and from this it seems to be that the judge's role is to apply the law and nothing else. In his work Professor Hart states that "Law, however morally iniquitous, would still be laws"15. This means that the judge would still have to apply the law whether it is moral or immoral, so can it be said that the judge's role is just to apply the law as it is written? To conclude, the film displays many sides to a judge's role. In some respect they have a duty to provide justice for the people when giving their judgments. In many ways this can be said to be the main role of the judge.
The film also concentrates heavily on how judges are to apply the law as it is given to them and how they should not question the legislature in what is written and should simply apply it. In the closing judgment the film also focuses heavily on the moral aspects of a judge's role. Judge Haywood states how the judges were "Men who… actively participated in the enforcement of… laws, illegal even under German law. "16 This quote and many others from Judge Haywood show his strong views on morality and the judge's role. It can be suggested that this is the main subject of the film.
The Nazi judges had acted immorally because the sentences they gave were in fact wrong and illegal. "The defendants were being tried for charges that… were not crimes in international law at the time they were committed"17. The film responds to the complexities of a judge's role by dealing with each aspect individually. Each time the same conclusion was reached. This is that judges have a moral obligation to be independent and impartial whichever jurisdiction they have a role in. The law is to be applied as it is set out, in the different ways that the different jurisdictions give for it to be applied.
However, in line with this the judge must always consider the moral factors and only apply the law if it is in place to provide justice in a moral way. It has been shown by the film that "moral judgments… are often required in judicial reasoning about rights"18 and the engagement in moral reasoning is often "an inescapable part of their role"19. The judge's role may appear to be different in a civil law jurisdiction than a common law jurisdiction on the outside, but as the film 'Judgment at Nuremberg' has shown, they are actually very similar when analysed deeper.
The role of the judge in both jurisdictions is heavily weighted towards morality. "Moral considerations and… Legal considerations are inevitably tangled together… in all legal reasoning"20. The role of the judge is not a complex one. The film portrays this well and helps to simplify the issues surrounding the role. A judge's role is simply to provide justice to the people and ensure that the law is applied in a way which is moral and correct.