Vallbé on Judicial Decision Making

Dr. Joan-Josep Vallbé, a researcher at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Institute of Law & Technology, has published his Ph.D. dissertation entitled Models of Decision Making: Facing Uncertainty in Spanish Judicial Settings (2009). Here is a summary:

“The work of the thesis that follows began because of a problem: a group of professionals (Spanish junior judges) needed to improve the conditions under which they had to make their decisions. So far a great deal of research effort … has been devoted to show and test that a solution to this problem might come through the design and application of an artificial intelligent device that helped in their decision-making process. However, the aim of the present work is not to focus upon the process of building a system designed to support decision-making, but to explore whether and why such a decisional, organizational problem existed, and how it could be detected and represented. In other words, our objective is to explore what makes specially problematic this decision-making process by Spanish junior judges, and eventually why should an intelligent device may help them. This way we expect to better understand the role of organizations in making decisions. …

One of the main organizational principles governing the Spanish legal and judicial system is the on-call period. Regularly courts remain on call for full eight-days periods, though the regular recurrence of on-call periods depends on the number of courts within a given judicial district. Should there only be one court in a judicial district—which is not a rarity in Spanish less populated areas—that judge and the court office would be almost always on call. While on call, the court office is responsible for handling all incoming cases reported by the police, the public prosecution or by citizens at large. For instance, if an offense takes place in a specific judicial district, the judge who is on call will be in charge of supervising all enquiries related to the facts of the case. Since the Spanish criminal procedure, like in any other civil law system, is based on the ‘inquisitorial’ principle (as opposed to the ‘adversarial’ or ‘accusatorial’ principle of the common law system), judges on call are to lead the judicial police in all criminal enquiries …. The different activities the judge has to endure while on call may entail paying attention over a number of parallel issues (raised by the police, lawyers, prosecutors, etc.). Usually, the need for quick decisions seriously handicaps (or impedes) reviewing jurisprudence or precedents. Therefore at the best of times inexperienced judges have to rely on uncertain consultation with peers or senior judges (if available, which is not always possible). Thus when on-call, their decision-making process is very likely to take place in a context of special ambiguity, in sharp contrast with other routine and rule-based decisions that bind most legal proceedings in ordinary judicial decision-making. …

“Part I of this work sets forth the theoretical background of the thesis. In Chapter 1 we present a review of how decision-making problems within organizations have been dealt with in political science, paying attention to the differences between rational choice theories and behavioral organization decision analysis. In Chapter 2, the implications of bounded rationality for organizational decision analysis will be outlined, including a full discussion on the separation between the inner and outer environments of decisions.

“Once the general framework has been put forth, Part II contains the work done with junior judges. Chapter 3 will be dedicated to present all the information relevant to contextualize our case. First we will offer a description of the essential features of the Spanish judicial system, focusing our attention on Courts of First Instance and Magistrate and, in particular, on the main features of its on-call service. Second, a description of the source of our data will be outlined, highlighting different kinds of data obtained and their role in the thesis. In particular, responses to closed questions in the questionnaire will be used in this chapter to attempt a profile of the Spanish junior judges which will emphasize their perception of their professional environment and some indicators of their quality of life. The main conclusions arrived at in this chapter, in addition to those gathered from the few previous studies on the matter, will lead us to our final chapter. In Chapter 4 responses to open-ended questions in textual form will be used to test our main hypotheses. In a few words, we will explore the kind of uncertainty that surrounds judges’ decision making, and the kind of knowledge they use to overcome these situations, through the use of distinct textual analysis techniques, including text mining and textual (multivariate) statistics. Finally, some conclusions are dispensed in Chapter 5.”

Dr. Vallbé discusses some aspects of his dissertation in his new post, entitled Managing practical memories of legal organizations: Beyond document and case management, at VoxPopuLII.

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