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Lay judges project

The roles, resources and competencies of worker lay judges: a cross–national study

This research project, funded by the Hans Böckler Foundation, will analyse and compare the roles, resources and competencies of worker lay judges who adjudicate on employment rights in labour courts in three EU Member States: Germany, France and Great Britain. Despite similarities in their roles, worker lay judges arrive at their positions by differing routes in each country. They are nominated by trade unions in Germany, elected by employees in France, and in Great Britain, (where they are called lay members), they nominate themselves and are appointed after a selection process. Given these similarities, but also contextual differences, the project will provide useful comparison and cross-national learning.


Lay judges’ presence in labour courts constitutes a major area of civil society activity with profound consequences for the contending parties. Furthermore, lay judges face dilemmas: how to reconcile their knowledge and understandings of the world of work with legal norms and values and how to reconcile their partisan origins with the requirement to remain non-partisan in the formally neutral judicial process. The project will explore how worker lay judges resolve these dilemmas in practice.

Research questions

The main research question is to ask if/ how the route by which worker lay judges come to occupy their role (union nomination, self-nomination, election), and the support they receive associated with these routes, influence their perception of their judicial role and whether these perceptions vary according to individual characteristics (such as gender, occupational background, union activity and experience) independently of these routes.

The subsidiary research questions are:

1. To ascertain and compare the resources available to worker lay judges in the three countries in terms of time-off, financial compensation, administrative support, and training, enabling ‘good practice’ standards to be identified.

2, To explain the role of worker lay judges in labour courts by ascertaining the competencies they bring to the judicial process and to understand if/how they are valued by other stakeholders.

Research methods and work plan

The project runs from 1 September 2015 until 28 February 2017 and the empirical work, informed by a review of secondary literature, will involve 40 interviews with worker lay judges in each of the three countries and interviews with employer lay judges, professional judges and lawyers, as well as the bodies responsible for lay judges’ nomination and/or appointment. Data will also be collected on worker lay judges’ gender, age, social origins, and trade union and other civil society engagement.


There will be a final report to the funder, setting out the main results, as well as workshops in each country near the end of the project for lay judges, trade unionists, government officials, professional judges and employers, as well as academic researchers. Those invited will debate the research findings and consider how lay judges can be retained and strengthened, an objective recently affirmed by the DGB (the German Confederation of Trade Unions) at its 2014 Congress.


The team

The core members of the project team are as follows:

  • Susan Corby, Professor of Employment Relations, University of Greenwich UK
  • Pete Burgess, Research Fellow, University of Greenwich, UK
  • Hélène Michel, Professor of Political Science, University of Strasbourg, France.
  • Laurent Villemez, Professor of Sociology, University of Versailles, France
  • Armin Höland, Emeritus Professor, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, Zentrum für Sozialforschung Halle, Germany

This is a multi-disciplinary team: academic and practising jurists, industrial relations academics and practitioners, sociologists and a former worker lay judge.

With funding from the Hans Boeckler Foundation, project number 2015-829-3

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