Saturday, April 16, 2011

We Want Our Justice Blind; What Happens When It Is Hungry?

The Economist reports on a fascinating study by two Israelis on the statistics derived from observing judges decisions regarding parole applications.
“A paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences describes how Shai Danziger of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and his colleagues followed eight Israeli judges for ten months as they ruled on over 1,000 applications made by prisoners to parole boards. The plaintiffs were asking either to be allowed out on parole or to have the conditions of their incarceration changed. The team found that, at the start of the day, the judges granted around two-thirds of the applications before them. As the hours passed, that number fell sharply (see chart), eventually reaching zero. But clemency returned after each of two daily breaks, during which the judges retired for food. The approval rate shot back up to near its original value, before falling again as the day wore on.”

Does this mean that judges get cranky when they become hungry? Perhaps. The article suggests another explanation that would also explain the data: decision making is difficult and tiring and a judge is less likely to dwell on the subtleties of an issue the longer he has been continually involved in that process.

Whatever the explanation, one has to question whether justice is being served.
“In truth, these results, though disturbing, are unsurprising. Judges may be trained to confine themselves to the legally relevant facts before them. But they are also human, and thus subject to all sorts of cognitive biases which can muddy their judgment. Other fields are familiar with human imperfectibility, and take steps to ameliorate it. Pilots, for instance, are given checklists to follow, partly in order to combat the effects of fatigue. Lorry drivers in the European Union are not allowed to drive for more than four and a half hours without taking a break.”
There must be other occupations where human frailties can inject risk into a process.

If you are scheduled for the last surgery in the day you might want to consider other options.

Any other suggestions out there?

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