Strasbourg Observers

Blog post series: legal research methodologies to deal with case law from Strasbourg (and beyond)

August 25, 2015

This post was written by Valeska David, Helena De Vylder and Eline Kindt, doctoral researchers at the Human Rights Centre of Ghent University and members of the inter-university Human Rights Integration project.

We are used to discuss and analyse the Strasbourg Court’s case law. We share our thoughts and findings in blogposts, papers and even PhDs and books. But how often do we share our methodologies? We are happy to announce a blogpost series on this precise question because, indeed, methodology is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome for legal scholars in general and for PhD researchers in particular.

A few months ago the Ghent University team of the Human Rights Integration project organised a PhD Seminar on methodological approaches towards case law research. The aim was to help PhD students working on case law to reflect on their methodology design and strengthen the methodological underpinnings of their research. As experience is an important source of knowledge, seven senior PhD researchers and fresh doctors in law illustrated which hurdles they struggled with and how they developed their methodology in order to overcome these problems. The initiative was most welcomed by students and academics and it became clear that this topic is a ‘universally’ challenging one for legal researchers. We then decided to encourage the sharing of methodological experiences once again, and bring some of the debates and insights from the Seminar here, to Strasbourg Observers.

In the course of the following weeks, this Blog will publish five posts written by some of the speakers at the above-mentioned seminar concerning their experience with case law research. The first one to be online is from Dorothea Staes, PhD researcher at the Université de Saint-Louis in Brussels and member of the Human Rights Integration Project. She will approach the issue of how to do research on the Strasbourg case law from the perspective of judicial behaviour, taking on board insights from extra-legal disciplines. The second post you will read is written by Laura Van den Eynde, doctoral researcher at the Université Libre de Bruxelles and affiliated to the same project. In her post, she will explore how to define and select landmark cases.

Next, Dr. Stijn Smet, Dr. Lourdes Peroni (both postdoctoral research fellows at the Human Rights Centre of Ghent University) and Dr. Saïla Ouald Chaib, who recently obtained her PhD at Ghent University, will discuss other methodological issues.

We hope this post series will be as helpful to you as the seminar was to us! Readers who would also like to share their experiences on legal research are, of course, warmly invited to do so in the comment section.

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  • Martine Dewulf says:

    Nice to read about the HRI seminar on methodologies in the blog! I am very curious about the following posts. Martine

  • Rachael Ita says:

    I will very much welcome these posts on research methodologies on the judgments of the ECtHR.

  • Nesa Zimmermann says:

    This is such a great idea! Many thanks to the fabulous team of Strasbourg Observers and the University of Ghent for your (academic) dynamism!

  • A very interesting – and important – series of questions. A few wee thoughts. Methodologically speaking, isn’t one of the most challenging aspects of using the Court’s caselaw as a source of data its unrepresentative character? Lawyers, classically, can only operate with what is reasoned and published. The overwhelming majority of the Court’s work is neither reasoned, nor published.

    Nevertheless, by mapping only the tip of the iceberg of Strasbourg’s work – legal scholars are often tempted into making claims about practice, behaviour and so on. Claims which often rely on the transparently false claim that the published jurisprudence should be treated as comprehensive – or at least comprehensive enough to draw wider conclusions from. As a scholar interested in the docket-filtering phrase of the Court’s work, this is particularly problematic. 90% + of the Court’s decisions are simply invisible. The limits of legal research bite, in my experience, particularly sharply here.

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