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Specialized Judicial Empowerment

Li, Zhiyu

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Specialized courts have emerged as a useful addition to courts of general jurisdiction in the contemporary world. These courts allocate judicial resources by assigning complex and technical cases to specialized judges and resolve social problems through legal and nonlegal remedies. Countries around the world recognize the benefits of entrusting a specialized judiciary in alleviating generalist courts’ dockets, delivering high-quality judgments, and advancing the consistency of law. In the United States, specialized benches have been established at both the federal and state levels. In recent decades, Europe has also experienced steady growth in judicial specialization. In 2014, the People’s Republic of China joined this global trend by setting up three new types of specialized courts in the fields of intellectual property, finance, and the Internet. Drawing on case studies and interviews with Chinese legal practitioners, this Article will illustrate the distinctive role played by specialized courts in authoritarian states. It suggests that subject-matter expertise enables specialized courts to be a unique laboratory for crafting and piloting innovative policies. More importantly, their jurisdictional limitations place these courts in a humble spot on the judicial subordinacy-supremacy spectrum, allowing them to review local bureaucracies’ decision-making in a soft and restrictive form. As such, one may expect specialized courts to continue to grow as a competent policymaking body and a versatile governance tool, especially in states where courts are dependent on but, nonetheless, empowered by the regimes. Yet the Chinese experience only tells us one side of the story. Should the ruling elites of a regime have the power to define and re-define the jurisdictional boundary of generalist and specialized courts, the creation and allocation of specialized jurisdiction would ultimately depend upon the pedigree and reputation of the regime’s original legal system as well as the political relevance of certain subject matters for the time being. Specialized judicial empowerment may, therefore, inform the ongoing discussion about the institutional design of authoritarian courts and, in particular, the strategic use of courts in striking a balance between the subversion of the rule of law and the orderly administration of private spheres.


Li, Z. (2022). Specialized Judicial Empowerment. University of Florida journal of law and public policy, 32(3), 491-546

Journal Article Type Article
Online Publication Date Nov 1, 2022
Publication Date Jul 1, 2022
Deposit Date Oct 20, 2022
Publicly Available Date Nov 14, 2022
Journal University of Florida Journal of Law and Public Policy
Print ISSN 1047-8035
Publisher University of Florida
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 32
Issue 3
Pages 491-546
Publisher URL


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