How do gender, professional experience and caseload affect judicial decisions on intimate-partner violence cases in Spain?

Joan-Josep Vallbé and Carmen Ramírez-Folch, Department of Political Science, Universitat de Barcelona
Project selected in the Social Research Call 2019 (LCF/PR/SR19/52540006)

Gathering a large amount of dispersed public data, the effect of both judges’ incentives (such as gender) and constraints (such us professional experience and caseload), on decisions regarding restraining orders to protect victims of intimate-partner violence is estimated. It is observed that judges decide more in favour of victims of intimate-partner violence as they gain professional experience – especially female judges. However, as increased caseload reduces the time available to make decisions, busier judges tend to approve restraining orders at lower rates than their less busy peers. This negative effect of caseload is much stronger among male judges than among female judges. In sum, judges’ gender does matter when decisions must be made on cases where women’s rights are at stake, but this effect is largely conditional to exogenous factors such as the court’s caseload.
Key points
  • 1
       Over the last 20 years, the rate of approval of restraining orders for female intimate-partner violence victims has decreased by 5 points, although female judges currently represent around 70% of judges in lower courts in Spain, and they tend to approve restraining orders at higher rates than male judges.
  • 2
       Judicial decisions depend on conditioning factors. For instance, judges’ gender is usually a strong predictor of judicial decisions on cases where the plaintiffs’ gender is relevant to the rights at stake. In addition, judges’ professional experience and caseload are constraints on their capacity to make decisions with sufficient time and low uncertainty.
  • 3
       Court caseload increases the information costs associated with judicial decisions on intimate-partner violence cases, and reduces the probability of restraining orders being granted by judges, both male and female, therefore having negative consequences for intimate-partner violence victims.
  • 4
       As judges gain more professional experience, they are less uncertain when making decisions, which increases the rate of approval of restraining orders. This effect is stronger among female judges, even when they face a high caseload. In contrast, professional experience has no effect on how male judges with high caseloads decide intimate-partner violence cases.
  • 5
       Even among largely experienced judges, increased court caseload is highly detrimental to victims’ chances of being granted restraining orders, especially when cases are heard by male judges.

Predicted effects of the interaction between professional experience, court caseload, and gender, showing that, among male judges, the positive effect of professional experience decreases when court caseload increases, to the point of disappearing at the highest caseload point. 

The three panels plot the effect of judges’ professional experience on the probability of male and female judges granting a restraining order. Each panel plots this effect at different levels of caseload, conveying the idea that a growing caseload increases a judge’s information costs for taking a decision. The left panel shows that at lower levels of information costs, both male and female judges increase their rate of approval as they gain more experience. The centre and right panels show what happens to the effect of experience when information costs rise: at higher caseload rates, the effect of experience remains the same for female judges but disappears for male judges. 

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Joan-Josep Vallbé and Carmen Ramírez-Folch , Department of Political Science, Universitat de Barcelona

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