Teilprojekt 3: Processes inside courts

Sub-project 3 took an internal process perspective by focusing on national court administration, local court organization and individual judges. It was analyzed how coordination works in realizing a certain level of consistency with regard to the procedural handling of cases, court hearings and the application of law in similar cases. 

Judges ought not to be influenced whatsoever when managing and deciding a case. It is a constitutional demand that judges are independent and impartial when performing their judicial tasks, and this demand is acknowledged in international treaties and most constitutions. However, to a certain extent it is inevitable that judges share their professional autonomy with the organization they participate in. In order to be able to live up to legal basic values such as legal (and procedural) certainty and equality, some coordination is needed. Traditionally, these normative demands are controlled for by means of appeal and cassation. However, in the lowest courts, especially, the number of cases managed and decided is much larger than the amount of cases decided by superior courts. Therefore, in this project, first instance courts were the focus of analysis.

So far, little was known about how coordination works on the first instance level, and in particular for individual judges. Which coordination mechanisms are effectively used by judges to achieve a certain level of consistency in case handling and/or judicial decisions? And, which coordination are not used or do not work effectively to achieve this? What are the influential factors? These questions gained a central position in the research project. Here, consistency of case handling and consistency of judicial decisions are perceived as a way to consider the legal values of certainty and equality, and to create unity.

In recent years, the quality of justice is a topic that has received much attention in the academic field and in the policy field. Against the background of these discussions and practices, the ‘coordination of consistency’ is regarded as an issue that can be placed within this debate. Various countries have taken notice of the issue of court quality. In the Netherlands, for instance, an overarching quality system, referred to as RechtspraaQ, has been developed to improve the quality of the judicial organization. Here, unity of law forms one of the aspects of judicial performance. In this research project, country-specific (organizational) features were taken into account to detect what is being done in this area.

Research activities

  • Document analysis per selected country.
  • In-depth interviews with judges from the different countries.
  • Data gathering by means of a web-based questionnaire.