Managing workloads at highest courts through case-selection

Managing workloads at highest courts through case-selection 21 March 2012

What to do when a national Highest Court is faced with an ever increasing case-load, resulting in long processing time of cases and little time left for deciding leading cases? Filtering of cases has been successful in several countries.

Highest Courts have to manage their case-load, while preserving access to justice and optimizing their role as providers of authoritative interpretation of the law in key issues. A comparison of practices from Denmark, France, FInland and The Netherlands suggests that solutions should be sought at the top (the Highest Court) and at the bottom (the lowest courts) of the system.  

This was the outcome of a seminar jointly organised by HiiL and the Dutch Supreme Court in 2010. At the top, a Highest Court can reorganise its work through the set up of a panel of, for instance, three judges (France, Finland) or through an independent external body which also includes a judge of the High Court (Denmark), that decides on the admissibility of the appeal on the basis of a set of (substantive) criteria.

In Finland this has led to a significant drop in cases to be processed (from nearly 5,000 cases in 1981 to less than 1000 by 2009). At the same time, it is helpful if lower courts already take measures to coordinate case law as a result of which they can contribute to a well functioning system of precedents. To this end online instruments, such as an intranet site, have been developed in France. These contain tools to better illuminate the scope of rulings and the advisory opinions of the procureur général. According to the participants, these initiatives have considerably reduced disposition times at Highest Courts and enabled these courts to focus more on their task of providing leading judgments.

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