Skip to main content

The Grammar of Bias: Judicial Impartiality in European Legal Systems


The concept of judicial objectivity is a cornerstone of modern legal systems. This article discusses the interplay between the lexical uses of the concept of judicial objectivity in cases that review the judicial impartiality of the court. The data for this project is retrieved from a large sample of cases (over eight hundred decisions) from Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and the UK. The analysis of the data shows that in the case of alleged judicial bias, the concept of objectivity is referred to in order to justify a series of judicial activities (e.g. the assessment of procedures adopted by an allegedly biased court; the existence of subjective interest in the case). In particular, the study provides a strong indication of what Legrand called ‘pre-judices’, which are the cultural aspects that are embedded in the process of the professional socialisation of each legal system.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. 1.

    Aceves, W.J. 2000. Liberalism and international legal scholarship: The Pinochet case and the move toward a universal system of transnational law litigation. Harvard International Law Journal 41: 129.

    Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Andreu, J.M.C. 2010. La sentencia del Tribunal Constitucional 31/2010, sobre el Estatuto de Autonomía de Cataluña y su significado para el futuro del Estado autonómico. Fundación Ciudadanía y Valores.

  3. 3.

    Baum, L. 1994. What judges want: Judges’ goals and judicial behavior. Political Research Quarterly 47: 749. doi:10.2307/448853.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Breda, V. 2014. How to reverse the Italian brain drain: A master class from Australia. International Migration 52: 64–77. doi:10.1111/imig.12142.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Breda, V., and L. Rodak. 2016. Introduction. In Diverse narratives of legal objectivity: An interdisciplinary perspective, ed. V. Breda, and L. Rodak, 7–13. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Breda, V., and M. Vricella. 2014. English pragmatism and Italian virtue: A comparative analysis of the regime of illegally obtained evidence in civil law proceedings between Italy and England. Maastricht Journal of European and Comparative Law 21: 428–443.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Brodermann, E. 2011. Impact of the UNIDROIT principles on international contract and arbitration practice—The experience of a German lawyer. The Uniform Law Review 16: 589.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Caciagli, M. 2006. The long life of Clientelism in Southern Italy. In Comparing political corruption and clientelism, ed. J. Kawata, 157–171. Aldershot: Ashgate.

    Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Christodoulidis, E. 1998. Law and reflexive politics. Dordrecht: Kluwer.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Christodoulidis, E. 2003. Constitutional irresolution: Law and the framing of civil society. European Law Journal 9: 4001–4432.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Coleman, J.L., B. Leiter. 1993. Determinacy, objectivity, and authority. University of Pennsylvania Law Review 549–637.

  12. 12.

    De Cruz, P. 2007. Comparative law in a changing world. New York, NY: Routledge-Cavendish.

    Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Dubler, R. 2002. Race and the Constitution. Australian Law Journal 76: 456–465.

    Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Dworkin, R. 1978. Taking rights seriously. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Frankenberg, G. 2006. How to do projects with comparative law-notes of an expedition to the common core. Global Jurist Advances. doi:10.2202/1535-1661.1192.

    Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Fukuyama, F. 2014. Political order and political decay: From the industrial revolution to the globalisation of democracy. London: Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Gordillo, L.I. 2007. Challenging Justices, disqualifying the constitutional court. California: TheCourt.

    Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Graziadei, M. 2009. Legal transplants and the frontiers of legal knowledge. Theoretical Inquiries in Law 10: 723–743. doi:10.2202/1565-3404.1231.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Hart, H.L.A. 1961. The concept of law. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

    Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Hart, H.L.A. 1997. The concept of law, 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Langacker, R. 1991. Foundations of cognitive grammar: Volume II: Descriptive application, New ed. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Langacker, R. 1999. The foundations of cognitive grammar: Volume I: Theoretical prerequisites, 1st ed. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Leebron, D.W. 1996. Claims for harmonization: A theoretical framework. Canadian Business Law Journal 27: 63.

    Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Legrand, P. 1996. European legal systems are not converging. The International and Comparative Law Quarterly 45: 52–81.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Legrand, P. 1997. Against a European civil code. The Modern Law Review 60: 44–63. doi:10.1111/1468-2230.00065.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Levine, A. 2012. Economic morality and Jewish law, 1st ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Magi, R. 2003. Come si impermeabilizza la camera di consiglio. Brevi note sul caso Carnevale. Questione Giustizia, in Questioni di Giustizia 2003: 1067–1071.

    Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Orücü, E. 2007. Developing comparative law. In Comparative law: A handbook, ed. D. Nelken, and E. Orücü, 43–67. Oxford: Hart.

    Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Orücü, E. 2007. Comparative law in practice. In Comparative law: A handbook, ed. D. Nelken, and E. Orücü, 411–435. Oxford: Hart.

    Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Orucu, E. 2008. What is a mixed legal system: exclusion or expansion. Journal of Comparative Law 3: 34.

    Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Pengelley, N. 1998. The Hindmarsh Island Bridge Act: Must laws based on the race power be for the “benefit” of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders? And what has bridge building got to do with the race power anyway? Sydney Law Review 20: 144.

    Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Posner, R.A. 1998. Creating a legal framework for economic development. The World Bank Research Observer 13: 1–11.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Sacco, R. 1991. Legal formants: A dynamic approach to comparative law. American Journal of Comparative Law 39: 343–401.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    Skoczeń, I. 2015. Minimal semantics and legal interpretation. International Journal for the Semiotics of Law—Revue internationale de Sémiotique juridique. doi:10.1007/s11196-015-9448-3.

    Google Scholar 

  35. 35.

    Slapper, G. 2012. The English legal system: 2012–2013, 13th ed. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Tushnet, M. 2008. Weak courts, strong rights: Judicial review and social welfare rights in comparative constitutional law. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  37. 37.

    Voeten, E. 2008. The impartiality of international judges: Evidence from the European court of human rights. American Political Science Review 102: 417. doi:10.1017/S0003055408080398.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. 38.

    Whalen-Bridge, H. 2008. The reluctant comparatist: Teaching common law reasoning to civil law students to civil law students and the future of comparative legal skills. Journal of Legal Education 58: 364.

    Google Scholar 

  39. 39.

    Zirk-Sadowski, M. 2012. Interpretation of Law and Judges Communities. International Journal for the Semiotics of Law—Revue internationale de Sémiotique juridique 25: 473–487. doi:10.1007/s11196-011-9239-4.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. 40.

    Zweigert, K. 1998. Introduction to comparative law, 3rd ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

    Google Scholar 

  41. 41.

    Natural Language Toolkit—NLTK 3.0 documentation. Accessed 3 Jun 2016.


  1. 42.

    Spanish Parliament (1979) Ley Orgánica 4/1979, de 18 de diciembre, Estatuto de Autonomía de Cataluña.

  2. 43.

    Spanish Parliament (1985) Ley Orgánica Nº 6/1985 de 1 de julio de 1985 del Poder Judicial.

  3. 44.

    Spanish Parliament (2006) Ley Orgánica 6/2006, de 19 de julio, de reforma del Estatuto de Autonomía de Cataluña.

Case Law

  1. 45.

    No. 1A-83-116/2011.

  2. 46.

    No. 1A-543-209-2011 2011-06-03.

  3. 47.

    No. Bf.77/2008/13.

  4. 48.

    No. 3K-3-93/2011.

  5. 49.

    No. 3K-3-110/2011.

  6. 50.

    No. 14.Gf.40.401/2011/4 (FIT-H-GJ-2012-57).

  7. 51.

    No. 27.P. 24.578/2006/3 2011-03-24.

  8. 52.

    No. I Ips 500/2008.

  9. 53.

    No. I R 13/2010 III. ÚS 347/08.

  10. 54.

    No. I R 138/2009 2011-03-15.

  11. 55.

    No. II-112-423/2011.

  12. 56.

    No. Kfv.II.37.563.

  13. 57.

    No. Pf.20090/2010/4.

  14. 58.

    I. ÚS 105/2011.

  15. 59.

    I. ÚS 131/2010 III.

  16. 60.

    I. ÚS 352/2010.

  17. 61.

    I. ÚS 395/2010.

  18. 62.

    II. ÚS 260/2010.

  19. 63.

    II. ÚS 268/2010.

  20. 64.

    III. ÚS 110/07.

  21. 65.

    III. ÚS 24/05.

  22. 66.

    III. ÚS 47/05.

  23. 67.

    III. ÚS 74/2011.

  24. 68.

    III. ÚS 347/08.

  25. 69.

    SC SR 1 Ndob 9/2008.

  26. 70.

    SS.UU. No. 22327 21/05/2003.

  27. 71.

    STS 01/II/11.

  28. 72.

    STS 03/II/11.

  29. 73.

    STS 13/V/11.

  30. 74.

    STS 24/V/11;.

  31. 75.

    R v Bow Street Metropolitan Stipendiary Magistrate Ex p Pinochet Ugarte (No. 2) [2000] (1999) 1 AC 119 (HL).

  32. 76.

    ÚS 347/08.

International Treaties

  1. 77.

    Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms as Amended by Protocols No.11 and No.14 (opened for signature 4 November 1950, entered into force 3 September 1953) CETS No. 005.

Download references


This research would not have been possible without the generous sponsorship by the University of Edinburgh Neil MacCormick’s fellowship programme. I have to thank prof Stephen Tierney for his unparalleled support during the MacCormick’s fellowship. The research was completed in 2014. The article reports on a large comparative project which involved a group of very gifted and dedicated researchers, who worked over a long period of time and it has been the proxy for several individual and co-authored publications. The list of the individuals involved, with the countries analysed by this article, includes: Maximiliano Aramburo and Sebastian Alonso Agüero San Juan (Spain) Michal Pazdziora, Lucia Berdisova (Slovakia), Vito Breda (UK), Pietro Denaro (Italy), Rūta Kazanavičiūtė (Lithuania), Lidia Rodak, Maciej Pichlak, Marcin Pieniążek, Jaqueline Sena, Andrej Kristan and Tilen Štajnpihler (Slovenia), Antal Szerletics (Hungary). Over the years individuals’ involvements, as part of the transient nature of legal academia, changed. The first data analysis exercise took place at the 2012 IVR World Congress in Frankfurt. From then, some of the contributors’ work has been reviewed and taken over by others. This list is only indicative of the final contributors. The submission complies with COPE guidelines and the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research. The project’s raw data is available for review via the Australia’s Academic and Research Network (AARNet). The usual disclaimer applies and so all errors and omissions are the sole responsibility of the author.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Vito Breda.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Breda, V. The Grammar of Bias: Judicial Impartiality in European Legal Systems. Int J Semiot Law 30, 245–260 (2017).

Download citation


  • Judicial bias
  • Semantic analysis
  • Convergence of legal systems
  • Legal culture