Research event

Automating human rights adjudication

Join us for a research presentation by Veronika Fikfak (University College London) and Laurence R. Helfer (Duke University), chaired by Başak Çalı (Hertie School). This event is hosted by the Centre for Fundamental Rights.

Dr. Veronika Fikfak and Prof. Laurence Helfer's and paper titled "Automating human rights adjudication" analyses the legal, normative, and practical issues raised by introducing automated decision-making (ADM) to international human rights courts and treaty bodies, in particular the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). ADM encompasses a wide range of automation technologies, ranging from content capture, if/then decision trees, and algorithms and machine learning tools for summarisation, translation, information retrieval, similarity clustering, and outcome prediction. They argue that the use of these automation tools in international human rights adjudication is both inevitable and normatively desirable, provided that three conditions are satisfied: utility, suitability, and explainability.

First, ADM must be useful for the international court or treaty body, in that it improves upon one or more aspects of existing decision-making processes. The benefits of automation that we identify include greater efficiency, enhanced consistency, identifying patterns in the case law and doctrine, and training judges, experts, and support staff. A second condition is suitability, which we divide into three subparts: First, does an ADM tool preserve the discretion of judges and quasi-judicial experts? Second, is it technologically capable of assisting judges and their staff? And third, does the tool avoid (or at least minimise) the different types of biases that computer scientists have identified? The final condition, explainability, focuses on the information that a tribunal provides to the parties, tribunal personnel, and the public about the use of ADM during the adjudication process.

Applying this framework, they find a strong case for introducing ADM to digitise key documents, to assist tribunal members and Registry/Secretariat lawyers in making straightforward determinations of inadmissibility and to calculate the just satisfaction awarded to prevailing applicants. Conversely, it would be inappropriate to use algorithms or machine learning to determine whether a state has violated a human rights treaty. In between these two categories they discuss the potential use of ADM for clustering purposes, summarisation and translation, and legal research. They argue that the benefits of these approaches to the efficiency of the judicial process need to be weighed against challenges posed by biases inherent in data and the human-machine interaction about which we still know very little.

This event is hosted by the Centre for Fundamental Rights

Prior registration is required for this event. Registered attendees will receive the paper, on which the presentation is based, via e-mail prior to the event. Please note that there are limited seats available. 


  • Veronika Fikfak is an Associate Professor at University College London, School of Public Policy and at the Centre of Excellence, iCourts at the University of Copenhagen. She is currently leading a team of researchers on a five-year project funded by the European Research Council on remedies for human rights violations. She has published numerous articles and edited special issues on compliance with international norms, behavioural approaches to international law, and on the European Court of Human Rights. Veronika is a managing editor of the American Journal of International Law Unbound and sits on the Board of the European Society of International Law. ​She also serves as a judge ad hoc at the European Court of Human Rights.

  • Laurence R. Helfer is the Harry R. Chadwick, Sr. Professor of Law and co-director of the Center for International and Comparative Law at Duke University.  He is also a Permanent Visiting Professor at iCourts: Center of Excellence for International Courts at the University of Copenhagen.  Helfer has authored more than 100 scholarly publications, including four coauthored books, two edited volumes, and numerous articles in peer review law and political science journals on his diverse research interests.  These include international law and institutions, human rights (including LGBT rights), and international adjudication and dispute settlement.  Helfer was nominated by the United States and elected as a member of the UN Human Rights Committee for 2023 to 2026. He served as co-Editor-in-Chief of the American Journal of International Law from 2018 to 2022.


  • Başak Çalı is Professor of International Law at the Hertie School and Co-Director of the School's Centre for Fundamental Rights. She is an expert in international law and institutions, international human rights law and policy. She has authored publications on theories of international law, the relationship between international law and domestic law, standards of review in international law, interpretation of human rights law, legitimacy of human rights courts and implementation of human rights judgments. She is the Chair of European Implementation Network and a Fellow of the Human Rights Centre of the University of Essex.