Explaining Judicial Assistants’ Influence on Adjudication with Principal-Agent Theory and Contextual Factors

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By way of a survey among 80 Dutch administrative law judges, this paper uses principal-agent theory, as well as contextual factors, to explain judicial assistants’ influence on adjudication. Principal-agent theory has, thus far, been applied mainly to the setting of the US Supreme Court—to test the hypothesis that judicial assistants influence justices’ decisions less, as the political attitudes of assistants and justices differ more. To create a more universal theory to explain judicial assistants’ influence, we have derived five other hypotheses from principal-agent theory, which can also be used to explain judicial assistants’ influence in other court settings. As expected, we find that judges’ managerial role orientation, trust in judicial assistants and favourable risk-benefit perception of assistants’ input increase assistants’ influence. Contrary to our expectations, we did not find judges’ rule of law role orientation and relative experience of assistants to be correlated with assistants’ influence. Likewise, none of the contextual factors—panel judgments (vs. single-judge judgments), complexity of court cases and time pressure—are correlated with assistants’ influence. While three perceived risks of defection explain the influence that judges allow assistants, contextual factors do not. As such, our study shows that—when operationalised differently—principal-agent theory can be fruitfully applied to settings apart from the politicised US Supreme Court.
Original languageEnglish
Article number5
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal For Court Administration
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2020

Research programs

  • SAI 2008-06 BACT


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