Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Judicial decision making – tackling the problem of ‘cognitive bias’

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When coming to decisions, we all have a tendency to reach decisions that are not entirely logical or free from bias. We should all aim to limit the effects of such biases. This is particularly important for those reaching decisions in a judicial setting. However, this is hard to do unless we know about the biasses that may exist and how they may be countered.

In a recent edition of Tribunals Journal (2018 No 2) Simon Ward – a medic who also sits as medical member of the First Tier Tribunal – discusses five major types of cognitive bias that exist when we are required to weigh evidence before reaching a decisions. He also considers techniques for countering these biasses.

  1. Representativeness. Similarity or resemblance to a group is used to imply representativeness of that group rather than using the real probability of membership. Applying the actual base rate rather than the perceived occurrence rate of the factor being considered, is recommended so the correct likelihood is utilised.

  2. Availability. Easily recalled or available memories or experiences are used to predict or estimate an outcome rather than the actual objective occurrence. Using measures to reduce reliance on memory such as reminders, prompts and checklists, is advocated so that accuracy is maintained.

  3. Anchoring. Salient or prominent features are preferred and given undue influence or anchored onto before evaluation is completed. Slowing down decision making to allow time to evaluate matters fully is advised so the correct weight or apportionment is applied.

  4. Confirmation. Information that confirms our own pre-existing expectations or beliefs is filtered and selected in preference to opposing or contradictory aspects. Actively seeking out alternative possibilities or positions is suggested so as to challenge and counter subjective, partisan or partial viewpoints.

  5. Optimism. Overconfident or optimistic evaluations are made of how much we know and how reliably we know it, whilst our own knowledge limits are undervalued. Comparing the current evaluation to a reference group of similar membership is recommended so as to allow calibration of the current decision

The article gives further examples of the applications of these principles and how they may be applied in practice. The lessons are, of course, important for all decision-takers, not only judges. It is an issue to which, historically, little attention has been paid in judicial training. It is very interesting that a practicing tribunal member should be seeking to share his expertise on this often misundertood issue.

The full article is at https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/tribunals-journal-edition2-2018.pdf pages 2-9.

 

 

 

 

 

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Written by lwtmp

March 4, 2019 at 12:58 pm

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