“Law and Economics” Literature and Ottoman Legal Studies


In: Islamic Law and Society
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  • 1 University of Connecticut

  • | 2 University of Vermont


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This article considers the relevance of hypotheses developed in the “law and economics” literature regarding settlement-trial decisions in the Ottoman Empire. In particular, it explores the applicability of the “selection principle” and “50 percent plaintiff win-rate” formulated by George Priest and Benjamin Klein. The article also demonstrates how existing research based on Ottoman court records can contribute to the “law and economics” scholarship, which is dominated by research based on modern, Western contexts. The article utilizes the court records from eighteenth-century Kastamonu to make observations about settlement/litigation decisions in an Ottoman context. 


  • 1

    Haim Gerber, State, Society and Law in Islam: Ottoman Law in Comparative Perspective (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994), 55-6. Debbağzade’s compila­tion includes several hundred court registries presented to instruct readers in the legal and scribal standards that courts were expected to observe in producing documentation.

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  • 2

    Haim Gerber, State, Society and Law in Islam: Ottoman Law in Comparative Perspective (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994), 56. “Only in the category of commoners against religious doctors,” Gerber observes, “do we find a tie of ten cases each”; ibid.

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  • 3

    Haim Gerber, State, Society and Law in Islam: Ottoman Law in Comparative Perspective (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994), 56-7.

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  • 8

    George L. Priest and Benjamin Klein, “The Selection of Disputes for Litigation,” The Journal of Legal Studies 13 (1984): 1-55.

  • 10

    Priest and Klein, “The Selection of Disputes,” 13.

  • 12

    Priest and Klein, “The Selection of Disputes,” 26.

  • 13

    Priest and Klein, “The Selection of Disputes,” 19.

  • 14

    Lucien A. Bebchuk, “Litigation and Settlement under Imperfect Information,” Rand Journal of Economics 15 (1984): 404-15.

  • 15

    Priest and Klein, “The Selection of Disputes,” 29.

  • 16

    See, for example, Joel Waldfogel, “The Selection Hypothesis and the Relationship between Trial and Plaintiff Victory,” Journal of Political Economy 103 (1995): 229-60 and idem, “Reconciling Asymmetric Information and Divergent Expectations Theories of Litigation,” NBER Working Paper No. 6409 (1998). http://www.nber.org/papers/w6409.

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  • 17

    For example, Donald Wittman, “Is the Selection of Cases for Trial Biased?” Journal of Legal Studies 14 (1987): 185-214; Theodore Eisenberg, “Testing the Selection Effect: A New Theoretical Framework with Empirical Tests,” The Journal of Legal Studies 19 (1990): 337-58; Samuel R. Gross and Kent D. Syverud, “Getting to No: A Study of Settlement Negotiations and the Selection of Cases for Trial,” Michigan Law Review 90 (1991): 319-93; and Steven Shavell, “Any Frequency of Plaintiff Victory at Trial Is Possible,” The Journal of Legal Studies 25 (1996): 493-501.

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  • 18

    Peter Siegelman and John J. Donohue, “The Selection of Employment Discrimination Disputes for Litigation: Using Business Cycle Effects to Test the Priest-Klein Hypothesis,” The Journal of Legal Studies 24 (1995): 427-62; and Daniel Kessler, Thomas Meites, and Geoffrey Miller, “Explaining Deviations from the Fifty-Percent Rule: A Multimodal Approach to the Selection of Cases for Litigation, The Journal of Legal Studies 25 (1996): 233-59.

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  • 19

    Robert D. Cooter and Daniel L. Rubinfeld, “Economic Analysis of Legal Disputes and Their Resolution,” Journal of Economic Literature 27 (1989): 1067-97; and Kessler et al., “Explaining Deviations,” 246-7.

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  • 20

    Kessler et al., “Explaining Deviations”; Waldfogel, “The Selection Hypothesis”; and Peter Siegelman and Joel Waldfogel, “Toward a Taxonomy of Disputes: New Evidence through the Prism of the Priest/Klein Model,” The Journal of Legal Studies 28 (1999): 101-30.

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  • 24

    See, for example, Nelly Hanna, “Administration of Courts in Ottoman Cairo,” in The State and Its Servants, ed. Nelly Hanna (Cairo: American University Press, 1995), 44-59; Jennings, “Kadı, Court, and Legal Procedure”; idem, “Limitations”; and Abraham Marcus, The Middle East on the Eve of Modernity: Aleppo in the Eighteenth Century (New York: Columbia University Press, 1989). For two recent exceptions, see Coşgel and Ergene, “Dispute Resolution,” and Timur Kuran and Scott Lustig, “Judicial Biases in Ottoman Istanbul: Islamic Justice and Its Compatibility with Modern Economic Life,” Journal of Law and Economics 55 (2012, forthcoming). We are grateful to Kuran and Lustig for sharing their article with us prior to publication.

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  • 25

    See, for example, Edward P. Thompson, Whigs and Hunters: The Origin of Black Act (New York: Pantheon, 1976).

  • 28

    Jennings, “Limitations”; and Ginio, “Criminal Justice,” 200-204.

  • 30

    Joseph R. Hacker, “Jewish Autonomy in the Ottoman Empire: Its Scope and Limits. Jewish Courts from the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth Centuries,” in The Jews of the Ottoman Empire, ed. Avigdor Levy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), 153-203; Timur Kuran, “The Economic Ascent of the Middle East’s Religious Minorities: The Role of Islamic Legal Pluralism,” Journal of Legal Studies 33 (2004): 475-515; and Ginio, “Criminal Justice,” 188.

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  • 31

    s also received salaries; see Zarinebaf, Crime and Punishment, 144.

  • 35

    Marcus, Aleppo, 106.

  • 38

    Mark Ramseyer and Minoru Nakazato, “The Rational Litigant: Settlement Amounts and Verdict Rates in Japan,” The Journal of Legal Studies 18 (1989), 264.

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  • 39

    Max Weber, Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978), 891-2, 897, 976, and passim.

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  • 40

    Lawrence Rosen, Bargaining for Reality: The Construction of Social Relations in a Muslim Community (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984); idem, Anthropology of Justice: Law as Culture in Islamic Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989).

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  • 42

    See, for example, David S. Powers, Law, Society and Culture in the Maghrib, 1300-1500 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).

  • 43

    Rosen, Anthropology of Justice, 43. Doctrinal works consider it appropriate for the qadi to push the litigants toward negotiated settlements before allowing litigation. To understand how classical legal studies treat amicable settlements, see Aida Othman, “‘And Ṣulḥ is Best’: Amicable Settlement and Dispute Resolution in Islamic Law” (Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 2005); and idem, “‘And Amicable Settlement is Best’: Ṣulḥ and Dispute Resolution in Islamic Law,” Arab Law Quarterly 21 (2007): 64-90. Anthropological research reveals a similar tendency in modern Islamic courts; see, among others, Richard Antoun, “The Islamic Court, The Islamic Judge, and the Accommodation of Traditions: A Jordanian Case Study,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 12 (1980): 455-67; idem, “Litigant Strategies in an Islamic Court in Jordan,” in Law and Islam in the Middle East, ed. Daisy H. Dwyer (New York: Bergen and Garvey Publishers); Aharon Layish, Women and Islamic Law in a Non-Muslim State (New Jersey: Transaction Books, 1975); idem, Divorce in the Libyan Family (New York: New York University Press, 1991); Enid Hill, Mahkama! Studies in the Egyptian Legal System: Courts & Crimes, Law & Society (London: Ithaca, 1979); Erin Stiles, “Broken Edda and Marital Mistakes: Two Recent Disputes from an Islamic Court in Zanzibar,” in Dispensing Justice in Islam: Qadis and Their Judgments, eds.M. Masud, R. Peters, and D. Powers (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2006), 95-116; John R. Bowen, Islam, Law and Equality in Indonesia: An Anthropology of Public Reasoning (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003); Lynn Welchman, Beyond the Code: Muslim Family Law and the Shari‘a Judiciary in the Palestinian West Bank (The Hague, London, and Boston: Kluwer Law International, 1990); Michael Peletz, Islamic Modern: Religious Courts and Cultural Politics in Malaysia (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000); and Ido Shahar, “Practicing Islamic Law in a Legal Pluralistic Environment: The Changing Face of a Muslim Court in Present-Day Jerusalem” (Ph.D. diss., Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, 2006).

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  • 47

    Ramseyer and Nakazato, “The Rational Litigant,” 268-70.

  • 48

    Marcus, Aleppo, 111.

  • 52

    Cf. Uriel Heyd, Studies in Ottoman Criminal Law (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973), 250; and Ginio, “Criminal Justice,” 207.

  • 53

    Judith E. Tucker, In the House of the Law: Gender and Islamic Law in Ottoman Syria and Palestine (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), 68-9.

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  • 54

    Iris Agmon, “Women, Class, and Gender: Muslim Jaffa and Haifa at the Turn of the 20th Century,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 30 (1998): 477-500.

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  • 63

    Heyd, Studies, 252-3; Peters, Crime and Punishment, 34, 77, 82, 84, and 98.

  • 64

    Daniel Klerman, “Jurisdictional Competition and the Evolution of the Common Law,” University of Chicago Law Review 74 (2007): 1179-226.

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  • 66

    Kuran and Lustig, “Judicial Biases”, 10.

  • 72

    Kuran and Lustig, “Judicial Biases,” 16.

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