News: French Court averaged 50 substantive judgments per year

The High Court’s 2015/2016 annual report states (as every annual report has for the past decade) that:

the numbers of Full Court hearings and decisions in 2015–16 were comparable with averages for both during the past 10 years.

However, as noted here last year, the number of published judgments in 2014 (49) and 2015 (53)  were among the fifteen lowest in the High Court’s history. With three judgments released today, 2016 equals 2015’s number of published judgments.

As previously noted, counting High Court judgments is not straightforward, because of changing practices in judgment publication (notably past courts’ willingness to issue lengthy substantive judgments on special leave applications.) The judgments published by the High Court typically include some minor judgements – single judge decisions and interlocutory rulings – that seemingly reflect publishing preferences in individual judges. This year, there were four such judgments, leaving 49 substantive judgments in 2016, one more than each of the last two years. The final counts of substantive judgments for the French Court are:

  • 16 (September-December 2008)
  • 52 (2009)
  • 49 (2010)
  • 49 (2011)
  • 50 (2012)
  • 57 (2013)
  • 48 (2014)
  • 48 (2015)
  • 49 (2016)

totalling 418 judgments over eight and a third years, or just over 50 per year. To take a tabloid approach, the Court’s average 50 substantive judgments cost the taxpayer (using 2016’s figures) approximately $20 million dollars in net expenses maintaining the Court plus about $4 million in the salaries of the seven judges (not counting pensions), amounting to roughly $480,000 per judgment. Those costs to the taxpayer must be weighed against the benefits of the Court’s judgments, which (typically) can’t be quantified, plus any other benefits that flow from the Court’s operations. At the same time, the end of the French Court coincides with some state judges calling for a new intermediate court of appeals to increase the Australian judicial system’s capacity to develop the nation’s law.

By way of comparison, here are the numbers (using the same methodology) for the Gleeson Court:

  • 34 (June-December 1998)
  • 60 (1999)
  • 54 (2000)
  • 58 (2001)
  • 54 (2002)
  • 66 (2003)
  • 60 (2004)
  • 79 (2005)
  • 63 (2006)
  • 61 (2007)
  • 43 (January-August 2008)

That is 632 substantive judgments over 10 years and 2 months, averaging 62 per year, or 12 above the French Court’s average. Even the Gleeson Court’s lowest years (2000 and 2002) were well above the French Court average, and above all but one of its years (2013)

And, because I’ve got nothing else to do but mark supplementary exams, here are all the various  averages I’ve worked out:

  • French Court: 50 substantive judgments per year
  • Gleeson Court: 62 substantive judgments per year
  • Brennan Court: 56 substantive judgments per year
  • Mason Court: 60 substantive judgments per year
  • McLachlin Court (Supreme Court of Canada): 72 judgments per year
  • Neuberger Court (Supreme Court of the United Kingdom): 74 judgments per year
  • Phillips Court (Supreme Court the United Kingdom): 58 judgments per year
  • Roberts Court (Supreme Court of the United States): 80 opinions per year

Of course, comparisons to the past and overseas are dangerous, due to differences in judgment practice,  court jurisdiction and composition, legal context and litigant behaviour. The question of why the French Court appears to have fewer substantives per year than roughly comparable courts is one that needs further analysis. Given that substantive judgments are the High Court’s principal output, one appropriate location for such analysis is the Court’s own annual reports.

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About Jeremy Gans

Jeremy Gans is a Professor in Melbourne Law School, where he researches and teaches across all aspects of the criminal justice system. He holds higher degrees in both law and criminology. In 2007, he was appointed as the Human Rights Adviser to the Victorian Parliament's Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee.

3 thoughts on “News: French Court averaged 50 substantive judgments per year

  1. For those who are interested, my raw figures:

    Brennan court:
    – 48 (May-December 1995)
    – 42 (1996)
    – 48 (1997)
    – 32 (January-May 1998)

    Mason court:
    – 63 (6 February-December 1987)
    – 62 (1988)
    – 62 (1989)
    – 54 (1990)
    – 50 (1991)
    – 60 (1992)
    – 57 (1993)
    – 64 (1994)
    – 17 (January-April 1995)

    MacLachlin Court:
    – 69 (2000)
    – 94 (2001)
    – 86 (2002)
    – 75 (2003)
    – 82 (2004)
    – 86 (2005)
    – 59 (2006)
    – 54 (2007)
    – 72 (2008)
    – 62 (2009)
    – 67 (2010)
    – 66 (2011)
    – 75 (2012)
    – 73 (2013)
    – 78 (2014)
    – 68 (2015)
    – 55 (2016)

    Roberts Court:
    – 85 (2005 term)
    – 75 (2006 term)
    – 73 (2007 term)
    – 83 (2008 term)
    – 92 (2009 term)
    – 85 (2010 term)
    – 78 (2011 term)
    – 79 (2012 term)
    – 75 (2013 term)
    – 74 (2014 term)
    – 80 (2015 term)

    Neuberger Court;
    – 23 (October-December 2012)
    – 81 (2013)
    – 68 (2014)
    – 79 (2015)
    – 65 (2016)

    Phillips Court:
    – 17 (October-December 2009)
    – 58 (2010)
    – 60 (2011)
    – 40 (January-September 2012)

    I worked out the Australian figures by clicking through the Austlii High Court judgment list and excluding judgments with less than five judgments, and short costs judgments. I used counts from Lexum for the Canadian judgments, Wikipedia for the SCOTUS opinions and Bailli for the UKSC judgments (with no attempt to trim minor judgments in each case – as near as I can tell, these aren’t in those lists. The SCC list does include short judgments approving split lower court judgments or dissents, something that has no ready analogue to the HCA.)

  2. Jeremy,
    Perhaps this indicates that not enough special leave applications are being granted.
    On that issue,it would be appreciated if you could post details of the success ratio of special leave applications.Last time I did some work on that for the purpose of advising a client some years ago,it was about a 70% success ratio for civil matters and a lesser figure for criminal matters.Likewise the success ratio for special leave applications-last time I did it it was slightly less than 10% success rate.

    • I agree that special leave application grants are the most likely explanation (although removals and original jurisdiction matters may also play a role.) The effect may be due to changing rates of grants (as a proportion of applications) or it may be changing base numbers of applications (or both), and they can also play off eachother. Either way, the problem is tricky to analyse because of the rise and fall in (largely hopeless) unrepresented or immigration applications, which need to be separated out. I’ll look into it if I can.

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