Livia Johannesson, PhD, Department of Political Science, Stockholm University

In Courts We Trust: Administrative Justice in Swedish Migration Courts

In my research I have investigated how judicial practices generate administrative justice in asylum determination procedures. Previous research on immigration policies argues that when asylum determinations are processed in courts, principles of administrative justice are ensured and immigrants’ rights protected. I scrutinize that argument by approaching administrative justice as an empirical phenomenon open for different types of interpretations. Instead of assuming that administrative justice characterizes courts, I assume that this concept acquires particular meanings through the practices of the courts.

Empirically, this dissertation studies practices of assessing asylum claims at the Swedish migration courts. By interviewing and observing judges at the migration courts, litigators from the Migration Board and public counsels from different law firms, this interpretive and ethnographic study analyzes how administrative justice acquires meanings in the daily practices of assessing asylum claims at the migration courts.

The main result is that a ceremonial version of administrative justice is generated at the migration courts. This version of administrative justice forefronts symbolic dimensions of justice. The asylum appeal procedure succeeds in communicating justice through rituals, building design and metaphors, which emphasize objectivity, impartiality and certainty on behalf of the judicial practices. However, these symbols of justice disguise several unfair aspects of the asylum appeal procedure. The implications of these findings are that immigration policy research needs to reconsider the relationship between the courts and immigrants’ rights by paying more attention to the everyday practices of ensuing administrative justice in courts than on the instances when courts oppose political attempts to restrict immigrants’ rights.

Livia Johannesson is a political scientist specialized in immigration research, public administration and interpretive policy analysis. She defended her dissertation thesis in March 2017, which dealt with Swedish asylum policy and the role of courts in determining asylum claims. Livia often uses ethnographic methods in her research and has co-authored an introductory book to ethnography for political science. Currently, she studies decision-making in mega-project planning as she is part of a research project about the new University Hospital in Stockholm, Nya Karolinska Solna.

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