Lay Assessors of German Administrative Courts: Fairness, Power-Distance Orientation, and Deliberation Activity


  • Stefan Machura

    Corresponding author
    1. University of Wales, UK
      *School of Social Sciences, University of Wales, Bangor, Bangor, Gwynedd LL57 2DG, UK; email:
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  • The author thanks Klaus F. Röhl, the Verein zur Förderung der Rechtswissenschaft e.V., the ministries of justice of the provinces Hesse and Saxony-Anhalt, and the administrative courts of Darmstadt, Dessau, Frankfurt at the Main, Gießen, Halle, Kassel, Magdeburg, and Wiesbaden for their support.

*School of Social Sciences, University of Wales, Bangor, Bangor, Gwynedd LL57 2DG, UK; email:


German administrative courts employ lay assessors who decide cases together with professional judges. The mixed court is comprised of three professional judges and two lay assessors and decisions require a simple majority. This article compares the experience of East and West German lay assessors using samples from two provinces. The two groups did not differ substantially in their self-reported participation during deliberations. Issues of distributive and procedural fairness are crucial for the way lay assessors experience their work. Lay assessors disagree with professional judges more often when their sense of justice is at issue. Lay assessors are most successful when the professional judges treat them as equal partners. Female lay assessors participated less frequently than males but this was not an effect of gender distribution in the tribunal. Differences in formal education did not help explain deliberation activity. Respondents with “high” power-distance orientation (social distance between those in power and those who are to obey) less often disagreed with professional judges. This high orientation is more frequent in the East. In addition to these specific factors, the institutional setting is a most important factor affecting the experience of the lay assessors.