How Busy Your Judge Is Can Decide How Much Money You're Awarded, Israeli Study Finds

The study of outcomes in small claims cases found that legal proceedings were more thorough and that fewer cases were settled than tried where caseloads were smaller

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Israel's Supreme Court.
Israel's Supreme Court.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Chen Maanit
Chen Maanit

Judges with lower caseloads were more likely to side with plaintiffs and awarded judgments for higher sums of money in lawsuits than their counterparts whose caseloads remained higher, an Israeli-German study of the Israeli court system found. The study suggests that the Israeli court system's logjam isn't just about efficiency.

The study found that judges who are not overloaded with cases generally spend more time on them, settle fewer of them, bring more of them to trial and award higher sums in their judgments. The study, coauthored by Prof. Keren Weinshall-Margel of the law school at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Christoph Engel of the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods in Bonn, followed the outcomes of small claims cases in magistrate’s courts around Israel over a four-year period. 

In 2012, magistrate courts in Jerusalem and the Central District outside of Tel Aviv added six senior registrars as part of a pilot project in which cases were heard in the evening. No changes in staffing were made in the country’s other judicial districts at the time. The additional staffing lowered the caseloads in the Jerusalem and Central District Magistrate’s Courts by about 15 percent, the study found.

The prospect that a plaintiff filing suit in either of the two districts would win their cases was 18 percent higher than in the country’s other districts. The judgments that they were awarded were on average 13 percent larger and the chance that plaintiffs would be awarded litigation expenses increased by 16 percent. 

“The judicial system in Israel is one of the most overloaded in the world,” Weinshall said. “The study shows that the caseload affects not only the efficiency of the proceedings but also the results of the trial and the content of the judgment.” 

Weinshall believes that caseloads in the courts need to be addressed but not necessarily by appointing more registrars or judges to hear the cases. “It’s possible, for example, to remove cases that are not appropriate for the judicial system – cases involving administrative fines or small monetary claims in disputes that are only between insurance companies.”

“Currently, any time someone dents someone else’s car and reports it to an insurance company, the insurance companies go to court to resolve the dispute, and when someone is caught walking his dog without a leash, it can turn into a criminal case in court,” she said. “These are cases that don’t need to be in the system and load it down.”

Last year, the Israel Courts Administration published a study showing that most of the country’s judges experience emotional pressure in their jobs, have difficulty dealing with it and have trouble balancing their work and their personal lives. The study, which examined the situation among 676 judges and registrars who handled 14,800 cases, found particularly notable caseloads among family court and juvenile court judges.

The results of Weinshall and Engel’s study were published in the Journal of Empirical Studies and were presented last week at an international conference at Hebrew University on judicial independence.

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