Judicial Tenure and the Slowing of Legal Development in England, 1600-1800

Peter Murrell (University of Maryland)

Abstract: Conventional wisdom on English development confers iconic status on the Act of Settlement, emphasizing the clause mandating secure tenure for judges. But the Act's effect on tenure was partial, affording the opportunity to empirically identify the effect of tenure on judicial decisions. The empirics uses two new databases, one on the biographies of judges, the other recording all citations to earlier cases made in the English Reports. The paper estimates the effect of tenure on citations, a measure of judicial quality. Several strategies aid identification. Explanatory variables capture both judges' human capital and the amount of litigation reaching specific courts at specific times. The court-year panel makes difference-in-differences possible. Two different sets of instrumental-variable estimates are generated. Tenure has a strong, significant, and deleterious effect on the quality of the decisions of associate judges. Tenure has no effect on the quality of the decisions of chief judges. Perhaps England would have developed earlier had it not been for one of the monuments of English constitutional law.

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