Comparing Courts Cross-regionally: Lessons and Challenges

This presentation summarizes the main results of the project “Judicial (In)dependence in New Democracies Courts, Presidents and Legislatures in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa” (SAW, 2011-2015). A starting point in our analysis was the unbalance of power between strong executives / elected power holders, and weak courts, a feature that is common to many new democracies in our regions. The project focused on three potential ways in which elected power holders can affect court independence. The first one concerns how insulated courts are in the constitutional design from political influence, and what their formal powers are. To assess this aspect we constructed an index of formal judicial independence, which was used in Stroh and Heyl (2015) to analyze the creation of West African Constitutional Courts. The second concerns the opposite extreme, that is, the purely informal invasions by power holders to which courts are exposed. The project developed a concept of informal interference and an empirical strategy for its study (Llanos et al, 2015). An "intermediate" path is represented by pseudo-legal actions or actions of transgression of the formal rules of judicial independence. In this respect, we studied the principle of judicial stability, that is, how often and why unlawful dismissals of judges occur in practice. This is the subject of analysis in Llanos et al (in progress). The presentation concludes with remarks on the challenges faced, and the lessons learnt, with this cross-regional research exercise.

Mariana Llanos is a Lead Research Fellow at the GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies in Hamburg, Germany. Her research focuses on comparative political institutions in Latin America, particularly, on the countries of the Southern Cone. She has published numerous articles on legislative, judicial, and presidential politics. She has extensively worked on presidentialism, particularly on presidential breakdowns (Presidential Breakdowns in Latin America. Causes and Outcomes of Executive Instability in Developing Democracies. Llanos, M. & Marsteintredet, Leiv (eds.) Palgrave, 2010). Her most recent research concentrates on president-court relations, judicial stability, and informal judicial interference, which has been developed within the project Judicial (In)dependence in New Democracies. Courts, Presidents and Legislatures in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa ( Llanos is also currently conducting comparative research on the institutional presidency in Latin America. She is the Secretary General of the Latin American Association of Political Science (ALACIP:

Date & time

Thu 10 Mar 2016, 12am


L. J Hume Centre Copland Building


Marija Taflaga
61 6125 2462


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