PhD Supreme Courts as occasional legislators

PhD Supreme Courts as occasional legislators

Published Deadline Location
29 Nov 29 Jan Tilburg

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Job description

Supreme Courts in Quest for Legitimacy in Public Interest Cases
The selected candidates will contribute to the NWO funded project “Supreme Courts in Quest for Legitimacy in Public Interest Cases”. The research project is led by Prof. dr. R.A.J. van Gestel and Prof. dr. M.A. Loth. It concerns public interest litigation cases (PIL) decided by supreme courts in The Netherlands, the United States, South Africa and India. PIL-cases often focus on an individual test case trying to bring about social change that goes beyond the interests of individual parties as part of a strategy of promoting human rights and certain specific ‘good causes’: protecting the environment, furthering equal treatment, defending public health etc. Public interest lawyers try to create awareness, raise public debate on policies and trigger judicial precedents, thereby creating new law. It is exactly on this point that PIL conflicts with the traditional concept of individualized judicial decision-making and traditional concepts of the separation of powers. We want to learn more about how highest courts find or construct legitimacy in those cases. What arguments, methods and strategies do they use? What conceptions of the separation of powers doctrine do they hold? What ideas do they have about their lawmaking role in a democracy? Do courts take the possible macro-consequences of their rulings into account, and if so, how do they do this? In the proposed study, we want to investigate these questions empirically (not normatively, as is usual), that is, by investigating the arguments, methods and strategies supreme courts use and follow in PIL-cases. 

Job description
A typical feature of PIL-cases is the forward-looking nature and aim of the claimants to change existing law and policy. Therefore, courts in PIL-cases frequently have to estimate what the macro-consequences of their decisions are for the public interest and for society at large. The way courts try to take the potential consequences of their rulings into account is highly relevant for the legitimacy of these rulings. How do courts, for example, try to avoid unnecessary interference with existing legislation or executive decisions and prevent excessive financial burdens that jeopardize other public interests than at stake in the case at hand? The idea is that the PhD will conduct an external comparative legal study in order to find out how courts actually operate in the four jurisdictions to solve similar problems (Siems 2018) via perhaps different means (e.g. amicus curiae, expert witnesses, hearings, interim orders, appointment of monitoring bodies et cetera). Courts will want to avoid that their decisions may have undesired effects. We expect so see differences between more civil law oriented and common law jurisdictions. Since we expect there will not be too much literature on how highest courts in The Netherlands, the United States, South Africa and India try to estimate the macro-consequences of their rulings, the external comparison may be accompanied by an internal comparison with how legislators organize ex ante evaluations. In legislative studies, there is a body of literature on how legislators try to anticipate possible future effects of new rules. To what extent might courts learn something from the methods and techniques that legislators use in this respect?


This project therefore rests on two pillars: 1) exploring what courts  in the selected jurisdictions may actually do in order to inform themselves about the macro-effects of judicial decision making that may go beyond the context of the litigating parties (e.g. possible floodgate effects of holding public authorities liable for damages or potential (other) adverse effects of judicial rules, such as strategic behaviour of norm addressees); 2) investigate what methods and techniques are available for courts to predict the consequences of different possible rulings? Apart from looking into how legislators try to do this, it could be beneficial to study the potential of big data and artificial intelligence (AI) for judicial lawmaking in this respect.


Research (0,8 fte)

  • Actively contribute to the operationalization of the research project ‘Judicial Lawmaking’.  
  • Pursue academically path-breaking research leading to an excellent PhD dissertation
  • Participate in the Tilburg Graduate Law School courses and activities.
  • Be an active member of the department by participating in and organizing events and activities, presenting and discussing research output within the department, and representing the department outside Tilburg University. 


Organisation (0,2 FTE)

  • Helping the project leaders to set up expert meetings and interviews in the selected jurisdictions
  • Assisting with the data management in the project
  • Develop activities to enhance the visibility of the project via social media and contact with relevant stakeholders in practice


Tilburg University


Tilburg University believes that academic excellence is achieved through the combination of outstanding research and education, in which social impact is made by sharing knowledge. In doing so, we recognize that excellence is not only achieved through individual performance, but mostly through team effort in which each team member acts as a leader connecting people. 


Applicants must 

  • Have completed (or will complete by the end of March/April) a Master in Law. Research Master’s program students are especially encouraged to apply
  • Have a strong interest in doing research and is able to formulate views, ideas and concepts based upon complex information, as well as construct conceptual frameworks or models.
  • Have good planning and organizing skills because they are necessary to complete your PhD research in the total period of time. 
  • Be able to undertake certain administrative duties autonomously 
  • Be able and willing to work in a team and undertake administration tasks. 
  • Be proactive and accountable, able to prioritize across responsibilities, and manage varied commitments. 
  • Have excellent interpersonal, as well as strong and effective communication skills. 
  • Have perfect command of English. Knowledge of Dutch would be an asset, but is not required. 
  • Be available to start working as soon as possible and no later than April / May 2022. 
  • Be present at Tilburg University during working hours, and commit to integrate in the environment provided by DPLG/DPBLL and the Tilburg Law School. 

Conditions of employment

Fixed-term contract: 4 years.

Tilburg University offers excellent terms of employment. We believe flexibility, development, and good employee benefits are very important. We make clear agreements on career paths and offer all kinds of facilities and schemes to maintain an optimum balance between work and private life. Tilburg University fosters diversity and inclusion; that is why we pursue an active policy for inclusive teams where diverse talents can flourish.


The starting gross salary varies between € 2.434,= and € 3.111,= gross per month (full time) based on scale P of the Collective Labor Agreement Dutch Universities. Tilburg University actively promotes equal and transparent salary between men and women by strictly applying predetermined parameters based on the candidate’s experience. Employees recruited from abroad may be eligible for the 30% tax facility- this means that 30% of your salary will be paid as a tax-free reimbursement.


Tilburg University offers you an employment agreement which will initially be for a fixed period of 16 months with a statutory probationary period of two months. After 12 months, an evaluation will take place. If the performance evaluation is positive, your employment agreement will be extended for the remaining period of 32 months. 


You are entitled to a holiday allowance amounting to 8% and a year-end bonus of 8.3% of your gross yearly income. If you work 40 hours per week, you receive 41 days of paid recreational leave per year.


Please visit Working at Tilburg University for more information on our employment conditions. 


Tilburg University

Under the motto of ‘Understanding society’, Tilburg University’s more than 1,500 employees develop knowledge, transfer it to others, and bring people from various disciplines and organizations together. In this way, we want to contribute to solving complex social issues. Our focus areas are economics, business and entrepreneurship, social and behavioral sciences, law and public administration, the humanities and digital sciences, and theology. Tilburg University is internationally known for its high standards in education and scientific research, as well as its good support facilities. The Tilburg University campus offers both quietness and connectivity as it is located in a wooded park, ten minutes away from the city center, main highways, and railways. A mid-sized city of 200,000 inhabitants in the South of the Netherlands, and in proximity to cities like Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, and London, Tilburg is situated at the very heart of Western Europe. 


Tilburg Law School offers highly ranked national and international education and research in law and public administration. Currently, almost 4,000 students are enrolled at Tilburg Law School. Students in Tilburg can choose from five Bachelor's programs, one of which is taught in English (Bachelor Global Law) and ten Master's programs, eight of which are taught in English. The international orientation of Tilburg Law School is reflected in these Bachelor's and Master's programs. The research conducted within Tilburg Law School is aimed at social relevance and provides students with the tools and skills to study and deal with current issues at an academic level. The research within Tilburg Law School is organized into four cross-departmental Signature plans: 1) Connecting Organizations; 2) Global Law and Governance; 3) Law and Security; 4) Regulating Socio-Technical Change. Furthermore, TLS conducts three research projects funded by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, which are integrate in the signature plans.

For additional information about the Departments Public Law & Governance and Private, Business & Labour Law click here


  • PhD
  • Law
  • max. 40 hours per week
  • University graduate
  • 18761



Warandelaan 2, 5037 AB, Tilburg

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