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Judicial Power and Power over the Judiciary: An Interdisciplinary Study of the Shifting Role of Judges

Research project What role courts have and should have in relation to political institutions is a complex and sensitive issue. The democratic legitimacy of the political institutions has traditionally been emphasized in Sweden and judicial review viewed with suspicion. However, Swedish courts have changed how they relate to the political institutions in recent years and there is an increased acceptance of courts as an independent check on the political institutions.

The overall aim of the project is to clarify the role of Swedish courts in relation to political actors. A multidisciplinary team of researchers with a background in law and political science will seek to answer (i) how courts affect and relate to political actors, (ii) how this relationship has changed over time, and (iii) what factors can explain and what players can influence such changes. We will do so by combining legal and political theory and perspectives and by compiling and quantitatively studying datasets covering courts and judges. This combination of competences and approaches will produce important new knowledge about how judges and courts act, knowledge that will add to understanding of courts in relation to political actors from both a legal and political perspective.

Head of project

Project overview

Project period:

2019-01-01 2022-12-31

Funding

Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet), 5 600 000 SEK.

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Law

Research area

Law

Project description

The project employs a judicial policy approach. This means that courts’ behavior is understood and explained not only as an outcome of and controlled by the legal framework established by the legislature, but also accepts judges and courts as independent actors with interests, tendencies, and strategies. Such an approach raises a number of research questions. Is it possible to deduce from how courts act if they have interests that are different from the legislature’s? How, if in any way, do courts act to promote those interests? Do different types of courts and individual judges have different interests, tendencies and strategies? How is judicial behavior affected by factors related to the individual judge?


The project aims to scientifically explore whether the role of the judiciary and the courts’ relationship with political institutions has changed over time and in particular during the last twenty-five years, as alleged in the legal debate. In order to capture the courts’ positions and independence, we will carry out quantitative as well as qualitative studies of Swedish courts.


The quantitative research focus on̊ the highest courts and we will compile and analyze the decisions of the Supreme Court and the Supreme Administrative Court, as well as the opinions of the Law Council, and also information on the participating justices. Focus is on factors that can be linked to the Court’s political and judicial position and impact. Using a combination of automatic and manual coding we will compile sources and arguments used by courts as well as the use of value-heavy terms, dissenting opinions etc. This will be supplemented by a separate, qualitative study of the role of judge's in lower courts, particularly general and administrative district courts.