Adjudication, the legal process of resolving a dispute

1 January 2018

The formal giving or pronouncing of a judgment or decree in a court proceeding; also the judgment or decision was given. The entry of a decree by a court in respect to the parties in a case. It implies a hearing by a court, after notice, of legal evidence on the factual issue(s) involved. The equivalent of a determination. It indicates that the claims of all the parties thereto have been considered and set at rest.

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Three types of disputes are resolved through adjudication: disputes between private parties, such as individuals or corporations; disputes between private parties and public officials; and disputes between public officials or public bodies. The requirements of full adjudication include notice to all interested parties (all parties with a legal interest in, or legal right affected by, the dispute) and an opportunity for all parties to present evidence and arguments. The adjudicative process is governed by formal rules of evidence and procedure. Its objective is to reach a reasonable settlement of the controversy at hand. A decision is rendered by an impartial, passive fact finder, usually a judge, jury, or administrative tribunal. The adjudication of a controversy involves the performance of several tasks. The trier must establish the facts in controversy, and define and interpret the applicable law, or, if no relevant law exists, fashion a new law to apply to the situation. Complex evidentiary rules limit the presentation of proofs, and the Anglo-American tradition of Stare Decisis, or following precedents, controls the outcome. However, the process of applying established rules of law is neither simple nor automatic. Judges have considerable latitude in interpreting the statutes or case law upon which they base their decisions.

A hearing in which the parties are given an opportunity to present their evidence and arguments is essential to an adjudication. The Anglo-American law presumes that the parties to the dispute are in the best position to know the facts of their particular situations and develop their own proofs. If the hearing is before a court, formal rules of procedure and evidence govern; a hearing before an Administrative Agency is generally less structured.

Following the hearing, the decision maker is expected to deliver a reasoned opinion. This opinion is the basis for review if the decision is appealed to a higher tribunal (a court of appeals). It also helps ensure that decisions are not reached arbitrarily. Finally, a well-reasoned opinion forces the judge to carefully think through his or her decision in order to be able to explain the process followed in reaching it. Adjudication of a controversy generally ensures a fair and equitable outcome. Because courts are governed by evidentiary and procedural rules, as well as by stare decisis, the adjudicative process assures litigants of some degree of efficiency, uniformity, and predictability of result.

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