Judicial Discretion in Constitutional Adjudication

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Author: Daniel Smilov

DOI: 10.21128/1812-7126-2017-2-51-74

Keywords: coherence in law; judicial discretion; judicial lawmaking; legal gaps; legal precedent; legal uncertainty; positive law and justice


This paper addresses the theoretical advantages and disadvantages of the concept of judicial discretion. This is a controversial concept, not recognised as legitimate by all theories of law and adjudication. The article explores the reasons for its adoption or rejection, and provides an instrument for distinguishing between theories which endorse the concept, and theories which dismiss it as irrelevant. The author argues that the borderline between these two groups can be illuminated by the distinction between what he calls coherentist accounts of law on the one hand, and holistic and atomistic approaches to law, on the other. While the former claim to be able to dispense with judicial discretion, the latter admit that it is inevitable in the process of adjudication. The first part of the paper provides definitions of the concept of discretion, and explores some problems for the theories of law and adjudication, which allow for judicial discretion. The author also focuses on difficulties with discretion within positivist theories of law. For a theory aiming at the elimination of discretion it is necessary but not sufficient to provide single right answers. The condition required for the elimination of discretion is a “formality requirement”, which allows for a non-discretionary judgement identifiable in a way independent of the moral content of this particular judgement. The second part of the paper explores the coherentist theories of law, represented by Dworkin’s law as integrity, which are, in the author’s view, the most promising ways of both meeting “formality requirement” and ensuring single right answers. The author explains why coherentist theories might plausibly be able to provide single right answers.

About the author: Daniel Smilov –  Ph.D. in Law and S.J.D., Associate Professor, Political Science Department, University of Sofia, Bulgaria.

Citation: Smilov D. (2017) Sudeyskoe usmotrenie v konstitutsionnom sudoproizvodstve [Judicial Discretion in Constitutional Adjudication]. Sravnitel‘noe konstitutsionnoe obozrenie, no.2, pp.51–74. (In Russian).


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