Collaborative Research Networks

CRN04 Lay Participation in Legal Systems


Sanja Kutnjak Ivkovich, Valerie Hans, Mary Rose

The purpose of this CRN is to bring together scholars working on different forms of lay participation in legal decision making. The legal systems of many countries incorporate laypersons in some decision-making capacity, including lay judges or assessors, mixed tribunals of law-trained and lay judges, and the jury.

Lay participation in the justice system has been justified on multiple grounds. It is said to improve decision making, to reduce the impact of biased or corrupt judges, to keep the system responsive to changing community values, to better represent the diversity of citizen experiences and perspectives, and to enhance the legitimacy of the system. Lay involvement is strongly criticized on multiple grounds as well, including charges that lay participants are incompetent or biased decision makers, lack crucial knowledge of law, or ignore the law. Scholars have also questioned whether lay participation has any real impact on legal system outcomes or whether it is serves only a legitimacy function.

This CRN will help facilitate the exchange of research findings and comparative research about lay involvement in legal decision making. What are the strengths and drawbacks of different forms of lay participation as practiced in different countries? How do a country’s historical and contextual factors shape the forms of lay participation? To what extent does lay participation fulfill its multiple functions?


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