The Role of Adjudication Procedures in Judicial Timeliness: Quasi-Experimental Evidence

Alessandro Melcarne (Université Paris Nanterre)
Giovanni Battista Ramello (Università del Piemonte Orientale )
Paige Skiba (Vanderbilt University)


The Italian judicial system is notoriously slow, with an estimated backlog of five million cases. We use a sample of 652,174 court cases in Turin to study the role that various adjudication procedures play in judicial timeliness. We exploit plau- sibly exogenous variation in the procedures governing how judges rule on small claims and implement a quasi-experimental approach. We estimate the causal ef- fect that different adjudication procedures entailing varying degrees of procedural complexity have on time to disposition. The unique institutional features of the country’s small claims court allows us to do so. For any claim valued below e1,100, judges do not need to provide formal legal justification for their decisions. They can rule based on “equità”, i.e., fairness, intuition or commonsense grounds. For cases valued above this threshold, judges do not have such flexibility. Our regression discontinuity estimates, which exploit the variation in these adjudication proce- dures just above and just below this threshold, reveal that when judges are able to rule without providing legal justification, decisions are made one month faster. We document the robustness of our results in light of observable strategic behavior on the part of litigants. We discuss how our results align with recent policy reforms in the realm of small claims including methods to ease congestion in Italian courts and efforts to improve judicial performance more broadly.

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