How to Measure the Quality of Judicial Reasoning

Joint project of HAS Centre for Social Sciences Institute for Legal Studies and the Law School of University of Debrecen




In the past two decades various ‘external’ (public trust, satisfaction, affordability and accessibility etc) and ‘internal’ or ‘formal’ (timeliness, fairness of judicial process, independence and accountability of courts) benchmarks have been worked out for the assessment of the quality of judicial activity. The question remains, however, whether we can measure the quality of the actual judicial reasoning at all.

This question is important on the one hand from a purely academic point of view: if there are methods to measure it, then traditional depictions of judicial activity as some kind of art (ars boni et aequi) or the manifestation of the mystical ‘judicial wisdom’  becomes unconvincing. If we can measure the quality of the legal argumentation then we will be able to evaluate judicial decisions and re-counted them if badly done just like we do it now with the products of other professions. A convincing methodology to measure the quality of judicial reasoning could possibly shift our paradigm of how we think about law in general.

Besides the academic interest, the issue is relevant also from a very practical point of view: the objective measurement of the quality of work spreads not only in academia (as we all know and some of us rather dislike this) but also seems unstoppable within the judiciary. The usual crude methods (e.g., number of judgments, hours of sitting, number of reversed cases on appeal) do not seem, however, to be able to reflect convincingly the real quality of a judge’s work.

Our research seeks to answer the questions as follow: What is expected from judicial reasoning? Is there a general concept of good quality judicial reasoning? Is it spelled out in any legal documents (statutes, internal judicial guidelines, appellate cases)? If not then how are these requirements enforced? Are there any attempts to measure the quality of judicial quality? If yes, then is it rather a peer review method, a numerical measurement or a mixture of these? Are judges expected to pay attention to the parties’ arguments or to societal expectations? If they pay attention, are they also expected to mention explicitly these expectations in their judgments? What is the self-understanding of judges that can be seen from judgments: protectors of rights, mouthpieces of the law, mediators, justice doers or something different?

As a first step of the research we are organising a conference in order to build a network of colleagues throughout Europe in order to launch a major research project on the topic. The Debrecen conference would be the first in a series of events in the coming years.

Planned date and venue: 28-29 November 2014 (Friday-Saturday), University of Debrecen, School of Law, Debrecen, Hungary

Keynote speech:

Zenon Bankowski (United Kingdom, University of Edinburgh) – on possibility of quality assessment of judicial reasoning

Presentations on quality assessment in major European legal cultures:

Markku Kiikeri (Finland, University of Lapland) – Scandinavia

Francesco Contini (Italy, Research Institute on Judicial Systems) – Italy

Arthur Dyevre (Belgium, Catholic University Leuven) – France

Gar Yein Ng (United Kingdom, Independent Researcher) – United Kingdom

Norman Weiß (Germany, University of Potsdam) – Germany

Zdeněk Kühn (Czech Republic, Charles University in Prague) – Central and Eastern Europe

Roundtable Discussion on the General Methodological Problems of Measuring the Quality of Judicial Activity

Participants: Attila Badó (Hungary, University of Szeged), Philip Langbroek (The Netherlands, Utrecht University), Zoltán Fleck (Hungary, Eötvös Loránd University), Nicolaas Bel (European Commission, tbc.)

For details visit

The 'Call for papers' is available here. 


Principal investigator: Mátyás Bencze