- Martin Luther King, Jr.
What is Adjudication?
Adjudication generally refers to processes of decision making that involve a neutral third party with the authority to determine a binding resolution through some form of judgment or award.  Adjudication is carried out in various forms, but most commonly occurs in the court system. It can also take place outside the court system in the form of alternative dispute resolution processes such as arbitration, private judging, and mini-trials (see ADR). However, court-based adjudication is usually significantly more formal than arbitration and other ADR processes. The development of the field of alternative dispute resolution has led many people to use the term adjudication to refer specifically to litigation or conflicts addressed in court.  Therefore, court-based adjudication will be the main focus of this essay.
Adjudication is an involuntary, adversarial process. This means arguments are presented to prove one side right and one side wrong, resulting in win-lose outcomes. In civil cases, one side/person that believes he or she has been wronged (plaintiff) files legal charges against another (defendant). In other words, somebody sues someone they have a legal problem with. Once this occurs, both parties are obligated by law to participate in court-based proceedings. If the case goes to trial, each side then presents reasoned arguments and evidence to support their claims. Once that presentation of evidence and arguments is completed, a judge or jury then makes a decision. Appeals may be filed in an attempt to get a higher court to reverse the decision. If no appeal is filed, the decision is binding on both parties.
Disadvantages of Court-Based Adjudication
The alternative dispute resolution movement of the1970s and 1980s was based primarily on promoting alternatives to litigation and court-based resolution procedures. ADR advocates argued that alternative processes such as mediation and arbitration were more effective and constructive, among other reasons, than litigation. Though the debate over which form of justice is "better" is still ongoing, adjudication definitely does have some negative qualities or disadvantages. Some of the main criticisms of court-based adjudication include:
Some conflicts cannot be resolved in court, because there is no court with clear jurisdiction that is accepted by all the parties involved. This happens most often in international conflicts when one or more parties refuse to honor the authority of any international court (such as the International Criminal Court or the International Court of Justice).
Advantages of Adjudication/Litigation
Though adjudication is an adversarial process, it can produce some clear benefits over other options for dispute resolution (i.e. ADR). Proponents of adjudication argue that the process produces more fair and consistent decisions than alternative dispute resolution processes. In fact, ADR has been criticized as providing "second-class justice." This allegation is based on the fact that processes like mediation have not been institutionalized and there are no set standards of practice or rules of law upon which they are based. On the other hand, adjudication or litigation is grounded in the public judicial system and has a vast array of rules and regulations. There are several advantages that adjudication advocates cite when promoting this dispute settlement process:
 Douglas Yarn, The Dictionary of Conflict Resolution (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1999), 5.
 Heidi and Guy Burgess, Encyclopedia of Conflict Resolution (Denver: ABC-CLIO, 1997), 2. NOTE: This excerpt of the Burgess' book includes a helpful discussion of the key differences between court-based adjudication and alternative dispute resolution processes.
 Stephen B. Golderg, Frank E.A. Sander and Nancy H. Rogers, Dispute Resolution: Negotiation, Mediation, and Other Processes, 2nd Edition (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1992), 6-8.
 The following bullet points were distilled from the discussion of disadvantages of litigation in: Edward A. Dauer, Manual of Dispute Resolution: ADR Law and Practice (Colorado Springs: McGraw Hill, Inc., 1994), 4-3-4-12.
 For discussion of how appeal procedures can be incorporated into private ADR see: Edward A. Dauer, Manual of Dispute Resolution: ADR Law and Practice (Colorado Springs: McGraw Hill, Inc., 1994), 4-16.
 The following bullet points were distilled from the discussion of advantages of litigation in: Edward A. Dauer, Manual of Dispute Resolution: ADR Law and Practice (Colorado Springs: McGraw Hill, Inc., 1994), 4-12-4-20.
Use the following to cite this article:
Spangler, Brad. "Adjudication." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: July 2003 <http://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/adjudication>.