A Content Analysis of Judicial Decision-Making

Routledge Handbook of Socio-Legal Theory and Methods, eds., Naomi Creutzfeldt, Marc Mason & Kirsten McConnachie, 2020, 329-341

13 Pages Posted: 21 Sep 2020

Date Written: June 6, 2018


Legal academia is littered with discussions about the techniques of judicial argumentation. It is surprising, then, that there is comparatively little research systematically studying how judges make decisions, upon what grounds, and using what strategies. Empirical research that records what doctrinal strategies judges employ in their decision-making is a valuable tool for enriching legal debate. It offers a fuller picture of the application of the law by the courts, and is capable of informing rich doctrinal debate that is traditionally based on an isolated pocket of lead cases from the highest courts. The technique of content analysis is one important methodological strategy for evidencing how judges use legal doctrine. Content analysis applies a form of discourse analysis in order to capture more comprehensively the content of judicial decisions. Section I of this chapter will begin by outlining how content analysis studies have been used to date, noting in particular that while the method has been used more readily in the US, its potential has yet to be fully realized in other legal academic markets, particularly the UK. Section II of the chapter sketches our recent experience in engaging with this methodological approach. The study in question related to a discrete area of judicial practice: judicial review of ombudsman decisions in English public law. Section III reflects upon the wider relevance of this method.

Keywords: Judicial Review, Socio-Legal Methods

Suggested Citation

Kirkham, Richard Michael and O'Loughlin, Elizabeth, A Content Analysis of Judicial Decision-Making (June 6, 2018). Routledge Handbook of Socio-Legal Theory and Methods, eds., Naomi Creutzfeldt, Marc Mason & Kirsten McConnachie, 2020, 329-341, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3668196 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3668196

Richard Michael Kirkham

University of Sheffield ( email )

17 Mappin Street
Sheffield, Sheffield S1 4DT
United Kingdom

Elizabeth O'Loughlin (Contact Author)

Durham Law School ( email )

United Kingdom

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