In Switzerland, the judicial organisation is in principle a matter of the cantons: this is the case for Civil Law (including Contract Law, Company Law, Commercial Law) and Criminal Law (except for some criminal matters, for which a federal jurisdiction is foreseen as well as for the inquiries as for the judiciary). A federal jurisdiction is also foreseen for administrative matters based upon federal public legislation, that are subject to judicial review by a federal first instance tribunal; the same applies to intellectual property matters. The new federal Codes of Procedure (civil and criminal), in force since 2011, do hold some principles to which the cantons must conform (for instance the principle that two levels of jurisdiction must be foreseen in each canton); beyond these limits, the cantonal provisions on judicial organization are subject to a control of the federal judiciary only with regard to their respect of the Federal Constitution. So the cantons are free to determine the geographic competence, the kind of tribunals (single judge or collegial tribunal) up to the requirements for the judicial function (legally educated judges vs. lay judges).
It is therefore no surprise that the tasks and requirements of the judicial assistant – a function widely known in every canton and at every jurisdictional level – are very different and cannot be described in an uniform manner for the Swiss judicial system. It is also easily understandable that a thorough comparison of the different cantonal systems would require a research not compatible with the time and space limits for the preparation of this Opinion. I shall therefore only expose, in the following lines, the basic principles, basing my opinion on my personal experience.
I. How are judges supported?
Judges don't usually have personal administrative assistants: however, the tribunals do have, and in larger jurisdictions, the sections of the tribunals too. Obviously, the presidents of the tribunals and courts have their own administrative assistants, but only for their administrative tasks.
In Switzerland, judges get fundamental support from judicial assistants. The rationale is that the judges must be able to concentrate on the decision that has to be taken, and in order to grant them the time and energy necessary for this task, they may be supported by people with legal training in fulfilling partial or intermediary tasks. It is perhaps useful to bear in mind that in the Swiss tradition, the judge does all the work that is necessary to take a decision (as a single judge) or himself makes a proposal to the college of judges. As it has become evident that the steadily increasing number of cases in the past decades wouldn't allow us to adhere to the original number of magistrates, there were only two options: either raise the number of magistrates or increase the use of judicial assistants. The first solution entailing the risk of a diminution in the social status of judges, the second was adopted, which has led to an increased use of judicial assistance.
The rationale for judges, not having a personal administrative assistant, has its roots in the same principle: judges solely decide cases and are not to be confronted with administrative tasks, which are left to the administrative staff of the tribunal or of the section.
According to what has been said in the introduction, the duties judicial assistants have to perform depend, on the one hand, on the hierarchical level of jurisdiction they work for, on the other hand, on the judicial organization of the canton in which their tribunal is located.
Tribunals in the first instance
The most significant differences in the tasks of the judicial assistants are to be found in the tribunals of first instance. This depends heavily on the size of the canton and its tradition in judicial organisation. In smaller cantons with a more rural nature, there are first instance tribunals where the judicial assistant is the only person with a legal education. His task will then be to prepare (on the basis of the parties' allegations) and lay down the relevant facts to the judge and to propose their legal subsumption. In larger cantons with a more important commercial and industrial activity, they support the work of the tribunal primarily in writing the protocols in the hearings (which isn't, in my opinion, an administrative task, since these protocols become a piece of evidence bearing the presumption of rightness) and in preparing the definitive version of the judgement, which includes proofreading of the drafts and cross-checking the references. The more experienced assistants may be asked to partially or completely draft the judgement on behalf of a judge (but this is not strictly their duty), which obviously incorporates the need to discuss the case with the judge.
Courts of appeal in the cantons (second instance)
In the second instances, the picture is more uniform. It is usual for the judicial assistants, and indeed their principal duty, to draft procedural decisions and judgements. In many cantons, they are also allowed to conduct hearings in simple cases, namely for provisional decisions; however, they are not allowed to decide autonomously.
Swiss Federal Supreme Court
At the Swiss Federal Supreme Court, the judicial assistants' duty is to draft judgements. Procedural decisions are drafted by a team of judicial assistants on behalf of the division's president.
At all levels, judicial assistants entitled or asked to draft judgements, usually prepare the entire document autonomously.
At all levels, judicial assistants are present during deliberations. They participate in the discussion as far as the applicable law foresees it (see introduction). In the courts of appeal (usually) and in the Swiss Federal Supreme Court, they have an advisory vote and are invited to expose their opinion after the judges.
Judicial assistants are always present in hearings, since their principal duty is to write the protocol. Whether they are allowed to ask questions, depends on the responsibility the applicable rules of procedure put on their shoulders (see introduction): the wider their responsibility, the more free they are to ask questions. As a rule, if a judge is present, he must give the judicial assistant permission to ask questions or delegate him the whole task.
There is an informal consensus among judges about what kind of duties a judicial assistant should or should not undertake. However, this consensus is different according to the region, its historical background and the hierarchical position of the tribunal concerned.
The signature of the judgement (for the single judge) or of the draft judgements (for the members of a collegial tribunal) cannot be brought by the judicial assistant, who signs as such.
Today, judicial decision making without the support of judicial assistants is unthinkable. Judicial assistants have developed into persons entitled to question the judge's decision or proposals in the judge's interest: since they are not entitled to oppose to the judge, they become his best critical support. They can only influence him by raising due questions and bringing the best proposals to solve a contradiction in a draft decision. This delicate balance between influence and clear knowledge about where their competences end is the trademark of a useful and well established judicial assistant. And the authoritative judge knows how to benefit from the support of a judicial assistant without giving him the lead in the case.
II. Organization of judicial assistants
Judicial assistants are present in the tribunals of all levels, with different duties (see above, ad I.3).
Where lay judges operate, the judicial assistants have an increased responsibility in supporting the tribunal's decision-making process. However, their statute is not shaped in view of how the lay judges operate.
The organization of the judicial assistants is different according to the hierarchical level of the tribunal they work for.
In the first instance tribunals, there is usually one judicial assistant for a panel of judges/a tribunal section. The assistant is attributed to a specific section. Bigger tribunals also have pools of judicial assistants who can be employed in different sections according to their needs (illness, one very demanding case, a.s.o.). In second instance (cantonal courts of appeal), the same system applies, whereby the number of assistants per panel/section is higher. In the Swiss Federal Supreme Court, the system is not very different; however, there are even more assistants and, although formally attributed to a section, they are then assigned to a judge, member of the section.
Judicial assistants are always paid by the public authority that has enrolled them, i.e. the cantons for the tribunals of first and second instance, and the federal government for the the first instance federal tribunals and the Swiss Federal Supreme Court.
Judicial assistants are always considered as civil servants.
Since the competence for the judicial organisation lies with the cantons, the earnings of the judges can vary widely. It must then also be considered that judicial assistants, being civil servants, earn wages that increase remarkably with time, while judges usually earn the same fixed amount throughout their whole career (adjusted to inflation, and obviously varying according to the hierarchical level of the tribunal they belong to). This said, and based on very approximative estimations of the undersigned, judicial assistants in the first instance earn between half and 75% of the wages of a first instance judge; in second instance, between 40% and two thirds. In the Swiss Federal Supreme Court, between one third and three fifths/two thirds.
III. Background and selection of judicial assistants
Serving as a judicial assistant is not a necessary part of the legal education, neither is it a prerequisite for becoming a judge. However, people having completed their legal education and wishing to be admitted to the bar can spend at least part of their mandatory training period in the tribunals helping the judicial assistants. Quite often trainees become judicial assistants and continue working at the tribunal after completing their training period.
Judicial assistants must have completed their studies in law.
The level of work experience that is expected of people aiming at being enrolled as judicial assistants depends on the hierarchical level of the tribunal they intend to join. In the first instance tribunals, some months as a trainee might suffice, whereas in the second instance (cantonal court of appeal) some experience as a judicial assistant in the first instance, in research or in administration are expected. For a job in the Swiss Federal Supreme Court, the admission to the bar is a non-written prerequisite; a doctorate or an MAS are an added advantage.
Vacancies for judicial assistants are publicly advertised. In larger tribunals, the HR department makes an initial selection. Then the judges who will collaborate directly with the future judicial assistant become involved in the selection process, even if the definitive choice is almost always the matter of the judge presiding the entity concerned (tribunal, section, panel).
How long the judicial assistants usually work in that capacity depends heavily on the hierarchical level of the tribunal: in the lower tribunals, a large majority leave after a couple of years to become attorneys or first instance judges; in the second instance, the number of judicial assistants who choose this function as a long-term/permanent career is higher; at the Swiss Federal Supreme Court, I would rather think that those considering their job as a permanent career are in the majority.
As already said, judicial assistants who choose to leave their function after two or three years usually become attorneys (sought after for having a better knowledge of the way tribunals work) or first instance judges. This is less the case for a judicial career in higher tribunals, the criteria for those appointments being quite different than those for first instance judges.
Lawyers having served as judicial assistants are appreciated for the insight they were able to glean from the way tribunals do their work, and obviously for the personal contacts they were able to build up with the judges. Furthermore, a lawyer who earned the recognition of being an outstanding judicial assistant will benefit from it as an attorney as well.
Judicial assistants in permanent positions don't have formal opportunities for advancement. As already stated, they can indirectly benefit from their reputation, if they stand for election as judges, but this criterion might not be decisive.
IV. Status and regulation of judicial assistants
Judicial assistants do swear an oath and are bound to the same dress code as the judges seating with them. This differs from canton to canton. In the Swiss Federal Supreme Court, judges and judicial assistants wear black attire.
Whether formal regulations governing the relationship between judges and judicial assistants exist, depends on the individual cantons. The Federal Administrative Court has set up a description of the judicial assistants' duties ("Stellenbeschreibung / Cahier des charges"). For the Swiss Federal Supreme Court, reference may be made to art. 24 of the Swiss Federal Supreme Court Act: this provision holds that the judicial assistant is involved in preparing the case and in the decision-making process, and that he or she has advisory vote (para. 1). It says then that the judicial assistant drafts a judgement project under the supervision of a judge, while he or she is solely responsible for the definitive wording of the judgement (para. 2). Art. 38 of the Swiss Federal Supreme Court Regulations details their tasks.
There are, of course, plenty of informal rules governing the relationship between judges and judicial assistants. Once again, they may differ from canton to canton according to the historic background. However, I would affirm that the basic principles apply everywhere: the judges, aware as they are of the importance of the judicial assistants' function, are always reminded to show them due respect. The judicial assistants, for their part, are taught from the outset to be watchful and to never cross the line between useful advice and invasive intrusion in the decision-making process. These principles are well established and function well, independently of the personal relationship between one judge and one judicial assistant; this means that these principles apply and are respected even when the two are on first name terms. Obviously, the higher the tribunal, the more formal are the relations – which might also have something to do with the age of the persons concerned.
The Swiss Federal Supreme Court Regulations (art. 39) upholds the judicial assistants' right to express their advisory opinion and adds that this takes place after all the judges have expressed their own opinions.
Judicial assistants are not allowed to become members of the Swiss Association of Judges.
V. General considerations about the support of judges
In my opinion, judges in my legal system do not need more support to work effectively. The support they get from the judicial assistants – as they are conceived in Switzerland – is good and should not be intensified. An increased use of judicial assistants could become the source of a major problem, if this would lead to a judicial system where the people who are not themselves judges would be the only ones to have a thorough knowledge of the case and could thus unduly influence the decision-making process. The secret of the perfect solution is the appropriate balance between scientific support by scientific advisors and personal knowledge of the acting judges.
Another kind of support might arise in the next decades that is likely to revolutionize the way tribunals work: AI. Standardised formulas will take over the judgements, as they are understood today, at least in simple, standardised and recurring matters, hopefully opening up the possibility for the tribunals to get more time for deeper analysis of more complex cases. But this is another topic.
However, the Federal Constitution of Switzerland, bringing with itself a multitude of solutions that differ from canton to canton, makes it more difficult to envisage unitary AI/IT solutions that can comply with the overlapping competences.
© Luca Marazzi, 15th February 2019
Art. 24 Swiss Federal Supreme Court Act:
Art. 24Gerichtsschreiber und Gerichtsschreiberinnen
1 Die Gerichtsschreiber und Gerichtsschreiberinnen wirken bei der Instruktion der Fälle und bei der Entscheidfindung mit. Sie haben beratende Stimme.
2 Sie erarbeiten unter der Verantwortung eines Richters oder einer Richterin Referate und redigieren die Entscheide des Bundesgerichts.
3 Sie erfüllen weitere Aufgaben, die ihnen das Reglement überträgt.
Art. 24 Greffiers
1 Les greffiers participent à l’instruction et au jugement des affaires. Ils ont voix consultative.
2 Ils élaborent des rapports sous la responsabilité d’un juge et rédigent les arrêts du Tribunal fédéral.
3 Ils remplissent les autres tâches que leur attribue le règlement.
1 I cancellieri partecipano all’istruzione e al giudizio delle cause. Hanno voto consultivo.
2 Elaborano rapporti sotto la responsabilità di un giudice e redigono le sentenze del Tribunale federale.
3 Adempiono gli altri compiti che il regolamento affida loro.
Art. 38 and 39 Swiss Federal Supreme Court Regulations:
Art. 38 Stellung und Aufgaben
(Art. 24 BGG)
1 Jeder ordentliche Richter und jede ordentliche Richterin hat Anrecht auf einen persönlich zugeteilten Gerichtsschreiber oder eine persönlich zugeteilte Gerichtsschreiberin.
2 Die Gerichtsschreiber und Gerichtsschreiberinnen werden von der Abteilung auf getreue Amtserfüllung vereidigt. Statt des Eids kann ein Gelübde abgelegt werden.
3 Sie nehmen folgende Aufgaben wahr:
a. Sie wirken mit bei der Instruktion der Fälle.
b. Sie erarbeiten Referate unter der Verantwortung eines Richters oder einer Richterin.
c. Sie führen das Protokoll an Verhandlungen und Beratungen.
d. Sie redigieren die Urteile, Beschlüsse und gerichtlichen Verfügungen.
e. Sie teilen das Urteilsdispositiv schriftlich mit, wenn der Entscheid in einer mündlichen Beratung getroffen worden ist (Art. 60 Abs. 2 BGG) oder wenn das Urteil nach der Fällung nicht sofort mitgeteilt werden kann.
f. Sie beaufsichtigen die Kanzlei bei der Erledigung der Urteile, Beschlüsse, Protokolle und gerichtlichen Verfügungen, die sie redigiert haben, und unterzeichnen diese, soweit dies vorgesehen ist.
g. Sie bearbeiten und anonymisieren die zur Veröffentlichung bestimmten oder an Dritte abzugebenden Urteile.
h. Sie vertreten sich gegenseitig und helfen einander aus.
i. Sie erfüllen weitere Aufgaben für die Abteilungen oder das Bundesgericht.
4 Der Instruktionsrichter oder die Instruktionsrichterin kann einen Gerichtsschreiber oder eine Gerichtsschreiberin ermächtigen, eine Instruktionsverfügung im Namen des Richters beziehungsweise der Richterin zu unterzeichnen.
Art. 38 Position et tâches
(art. 24 LTF)
1 Chaque juge ordinaire a droit à ce qu’un greffier lui soit attribué à titre personnel.
2 Les greffiers prêtent serment devant la cour de remplir fidèlement leurs devoirs. Le serment peut être remplacé par une promesse solennelle.
3 Ils accomplissent les tâches suivantes:
a. Ils participent à l’instruction des causes.
b. Ils établissent des rapports sous la responsabilité d’un juge.
c. Ils tiennent les procès-verbaux des audiences et des délibérations.
d. Ils rédigent les arrêts, les décisions et les ordonnances du Tribunal.
e. Ils communiquent par écrit le dispositif des arrêts lorsqu’ils ont été rendus en audience de délibération (art. 60, al. 2, LTF) ou lorsque la décision complète ne peut pas être notifiée immédiatement après son prononcé.
f. Ils contrôlent le travail de la chancellerie lors de la mise au net des arrêts, des décisions, des procès-verbaux et des ordonnances du Tribunal qu’ils ont rédigés et les signent dans les cas prévus.
g. Ils adaptent et rendent anonymes les arrêts destinés à être publiés ou remis à des tiers.
h. Ils veillent à se remplacer et à s’entraider.
i. Ils accomplissent d’autres tâches pour les cours ou pour le Tribunal fédéral.
4 Le juge instructeur peut autoriser un greffier à signer en son nom une ordonnance relative à l’instruction.
Art. 38 Posizione e compiti
(art. 24 LTF)
1 Ogni giudice ordinario ha diritto a che un cancelliere gli sia attribuito personalmente.
2 I cancellieri prestano, davanti alla corte, il giuramento di adempiere fedelmente il loro dovere. Il giuramento può essere sostituito da una promessa solenne.
3 Essi svolgono i seguenti compiti:
a. Partecipano all’istruzione delle cause.
b. Elaborano rapporti sotto la responsabilità di un giudice.
c. Allestiscono il verbale delle udienze e delle sedute.
d. Redigono le sentenze, le decisioni e le ordinanze del Tribunale.
e. Notificano per iscritto il dispositivo, se la sentenza è stata deliberata oralmente (art. 60 cpv. 2 LTF) o se la sentenza non può essere notificata immediatamente dopo essere stata pronunciata.
f. Sorvegliano la cancelleria nell’approntamento delle sentenze, decisioni, ordinanze e dei verbali che hanno redatto e che firmano nei casi previsti.
g. Adattano e anonimizzano le sentenze destinate alla pubblicazione o da consegnare a terzi.
h. Si sostituiscono e si aiutano vicendevolmente.
i. Adempiono altri compiti per le corti o per il Tribunale federale.
4 Il giudice dell’istruzione può autorizzare un cancelliere a firmare in nome del giudice una decisione d’istruzione.
Art. 39 Beratende Stimme
(Art. 24 Abs. 1 zweiter Satz BGG)
Die Gerichtsschreiber und Gerichtsschreiberinnen können ihre beratende Stimme ausüben:
a. in der mündlichen Beratung nach der ersten Meinungsäusserung der Richter und Richterinnen;
b. im Verfahren auf dem Wege der Aktenzirkulation mit Bemerkungen bei der Erarbeitung des Referates oder, wenn sie daran nicht mitgewirkt haben, nach der Zirkulation bei den Richtern und Richterinnen.
Art. 39 Voix consultative
(art. 24, al. 1, 2e phrase, LTF)
Les greffiers peuvent exprimer leur voix consultative:
a. lors des délibérations orales, après que les juges ont exprimé leur avis lors du premier tour de parole;
b. dans les procédures par voie de circulation par des remarques dans le projet de rapport lors de son élaboration ou, s’ils n’y ont pas participé, après que celui-ci a circulé auprès des juges.
Art. 39 Voto consultivo
(art. 24 cpv. 1 seconda frase LTF)
I cancellieri possono esprimere il loro voto consultivo:
a. nelle deliberazioni orali, dopo che i giudici si sono espressi una prima volta;
b. nella procedura per circolazione degli atti, con osservazioni formulate durante la stesura del rapporto o, se non vi hanno partecipato, dopo che questo ha circolato presso i giudici.