Courts and Public Opinion

Event date: 
21 Mar 2016
1:00pm to 2:00pm
Boardroom, Level 2 UNSW Law
Can courts change public opinion?
Malcolm Langford
Associate Professor, Faculty Law, University of Oslo
Any questions? Call 9385 1803


Can courts change public opinion? Can judges be agents for the promotion of certain policy positions or more tolerant (or intolerant) attitudes? The answer from the US-centric scholarship is mixed. In salient and ground-breaking judgments, courts can shape and inflect public attitudes. However, the size and direction of the effects will vary amongst individuals - courts can also polarise opinion.

This talk presents the first ever study on the effects of courts on public opinion in a Western European state. The method is experimental: It examines responses by Norwegian citizens in 2015 to information about court judgments on refugees and sex workers. The study is unique as it is multi-level and comparative. It contrasts the effects of the same decision from the European Court of Human Rights, the Norwegian Supreme Court, and a foreign court (Canada). It also examines the impact of similar interventions by other actors, including the UN and Amnesty.

Malcolm Langford is as an Associate Professor, Faculty Law, University of Oslo. He has published widely on human rights, international development, investment arbitration, comparative constitutionalism and the politics of the legal profession. Malcolm is also the Co-Director of the Centre on Law and Social Transformation, University of Bergen and CMI and the Co-Editor of the Cambridge University Press Book Series on Human Rights and Globalization.



Norwegian Supreme Court photo courtesy of Skrytebane/Creative Commons