28 May 2014
San Francesco - Cappella Guinigi
Recent studies of asylum adjudication in several Western countries have found sizeable disparities between individual adjudicators. We contribute to this literature by exploiting a shift from three judge panels for all asylum appeal decisions to single judge decisions for many cases that occurred in Switzerland in 2008. Several features of the asylum appeal process conspire to offer an unusual opportunity to examine the consequences of this institutional change for the consistency of judicial decision-making. First, the asylum cases have a common, uni-dimensional structure, as all decisions involve the appeal of an initial asylum decision. Second, the cases are assigned effectively randomly to (panels of) judges. Third, there is no evidence that the distribution of cases changed when the institutional rules changed. As a result, we can use the period where judges made panel decisions on all cases to estimate their relative propensity to decide in favor of the asylum seeker, and test which of several theories of group decision-making seem to best fit the panel decisions. We then leverage this information to see whether the introduction of single judge decisions increased the heterogeneity of decisions.