Developing Specialized Court Services: International Experiences and Lessons Learned

Court specialization is commonly considered to be an important reform initiative to advance the development of a successful judicial system. Court specialization is thought useful even to address broader development constraints, such as the need for more effective access to contract enforcement, improvements in the investment climate, or more adequate protection of the environment. Studies from the United States, Australia, and other countries have shown that specialization can be helpful in improving the processing of court cases that are more complex or require special expertise beyond the law, such as in bankruptcy, the environmental, or mental health issues, or cases that must be handled differently to better reflect the needs of a particular court user group, such as business cases or family matters.

These studies have also pointed to some drawbacks, however. For example, special attention to, and the allocation of additional resources for, handling business cases can lead to the perception that a court provides preferential services to the business community but not the average person. In some instances, special courts have been created when the caseload did not actually justify the additional investment, raising questions as to whether the resources could have been better spent on improving overall court operations. In other cases, it was noted that judges who work on only one type of case may develop a deep but narrow expertise that may limit their focus and lead to a restricted view of the law, which may in turn lead to a reduced ability to consider new legal and societal trends that are reflected in other areas of the law. Judges may also develop too close a relationship with a particular group of lawyers and interest groups that are involved in special case types, especially if those groups are relatively small and if judges serve in this special capacity exclusively and for an extended period.

This report outlines the international experiences and good practices related to establishing specialized courts and creating the associated judicial expertise. It specifically highlights the information that is needed to determine if specialization is required in particular areas, as well as the specialization model that may be most appropriate, the requirements of the different models, and the approaches to training and selecting judges for special assignments. The paper also outlines the next steps a jurisdiction might take to examine the potential need and demand for further specialized judicial services and to consider what would be needed to meet those which are justified.

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