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Judges under Stress JuS - the Breaking Point of Judicial Institutions

How do rulers seek judicial compliance with authoritarian measures, how do judges react to such measures, and what are the conditions under which an independent judiciary breaks down? We will adress these questions from the perspective of institutional theory, looking at the experiences of Central and Eastern European states under communist rule. We will compare these experiences with experiences from other countries.

The project will look at how rulers seek judicial compliance with authoritarian measures, how judges react to such measures, and the conditions under which an independent judiciary breaks down.


About the Project

The Authoritarian Challenge

There are courts in Europe that are facing powerful political forces calling for illiberal measures. It is to be expected that the higher degrees of social concern and conflict that we experience in Europe today will challenge basic elements of the rule of law and thus put higher demands on the judiciary, both in the post-communist countries and in countries of Western Europe. The project will look at how rulers seek judicial compliance with authoritarian measures, how judges react to such measures, and the conditions under which an independent judiciary breaks down. It will explore how the conditions of an independent judiciary differ in countries with different legal traditions. This will be studied by surveying differences in the fascist and communist approaches to law. Based on a historical comparison of different European countries, we will explore whether variances between different countries can be can be explained by differences in the long historical traditions of their legal institutions.

Multidisciplinary approach

The project is multidisciplinary in the intersection between law, legal theory, legal history and sociology of law. It will employ the normal tools of legal analysis on the legal material of the time of communism in the selected country studies. It will also employ empirical studies by searching for evidence of the courts being used as mere mock trials in political cases and for evidence of rulings in political cases where judges acted independently and did not return the verdicts expected by the regime. We will search for and examine laws delimiting the jurisdiction of the courts in relation to security forces and detention regimes and to what extent such cases were brought to the courts and how they were dealt with. We will also see to what extent the operations of security forces and political police had a formal legal basis, and to what extent they operated in contradiction to formal legal requirements. We will study this by examining legal reasoning in court decisions and legal doctrine on issues and laws that are particularly oppressive in nature or questionable from the point of view of national and international standards.

Organisation of the Project

The project is located at the Department of Private Law at the Faculty of Law, University of Oslo, with professor Hans Petter Graver as project manager. The law faculty has vibrant and strong groups of researchers doing works on courts and the judiciary, in legal sociology and legal history. An aim of the project is to build a group with a core of researchers from the faculty with the participation of researchers at other institutions abroad. In addition to the project manager they consist of professor Christoffer Eriksen and Malcolm Langford at the Department of public law and professor Peter Scharff Smith at the Department of Criminology and Sociology of Law. Graver an Scharff Smith cooperate in the newly established course at the faculty on Law, Ideology and Human Rights Violations. The group will be joined by Dr Magdalena Konopacka, University of Gdansk who will spend one year in Oslo as a visiting researcher, and by two post docs and one PhD-students.

The project has established contacts with colleagues with high academic knowledge and experience in the study of law and legal institutions under authoritarian conditions in Europe. These are Joxerramon Bengoetxea, Universidad del País Vasco (UPV/EHU); Oñati International Institute for the Sociology of Law, Mátyás Bencze, Hungarian Academy of Sciences Centre for Social Sciences Institute for Legal Studies, Cosmin Cercel, University of Nottingham, David Fraser, University of Nottingham, Jaan Ginter, University of Taartu, Ole Hammerslev, University of Southern Denmark, Tomasz Tadeusz Koncewicz, University of Gdansk,  David Kosar, Masaryk University, Agnes Kovacs Sofie Papaefthymiou, University of Lyon, Herlinde Pauer Studer, University of Vienna, Inger Johanne Sand, University of Oslo, Anna Wallermann, University of Gothenburg and Jerzy Zajadło, University of Gdansk. Together they will form an international network, contribute in the supervision of the young researchers and in seminars and discussions. Efforts will be made to expand the network, in particular with academics from institutions in the CEECs.

See the project description.

The project will run from 2018 through 2022.


The Project is financed by FRIPRO-funding from the Research Council of Norway and the University of Oslo.


Tags: rule of law, judges, judicial independence, authoritarian law, legal politics, institutions, institutional theory
Published Feb. 5, 2018 10:58 AM - Last modified Feb. 20, 2018 9:41 AM