This article examines the role of the criminal judge in light of the vanishing trial phenomenon and the emergent reality of many doors to process legal conflicts in both the civil and criminal domains. It focuses on judicial conflict resolution (JCR), which is any activity conducted by judges in order to promote consensual disposition of legal cases, in “Plea Bargains Facilitating Days” ( moqed ) in Tel-Aviv Magistrate’s Court. We conducted quantitative and qualitative analyses of data collected from observations of 717 hearings in 704 criminal cases and found that, on average, 5.55 (SD = 3.62) hearings were required for disposing of a case, and the average duration of a legal proceeding from indictment to closure was 548.55 (SD = 323.17) days. In most of the hearings the judges’ role was confined to managerial-bureaucratic decisions intended to enable the negotiation between the parties. JCR activities occurred in only 16.9 percent of the hearings, and we identified six types of JCR practices in the promotion of plea bargains: narrow and broad facilitation of negotiations between the parties, forecasting the legal outcome, negatively presenting the judicial process, using lawyer-client relations to promote agreement, and using Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) techniques. These findings are compared to previous findings on the roles of judges in civil pretrial proceedings, and the more active role of the civil judge in promoting settlements is discussed. We further discuss the possibility of expanding a therapeutic and rehabilitative approach in the framework of criminal JCR during preliminary hearing days, which become today the main door of criminal justice.
Our paper surveys the development of criminal hybrid models in two continental jurisdictions, Italy and France, following the 1987 Recommendation of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to accelerate criminal proceedings through the introduction of guilty pleas, out-of-court settlements and simplified proceedings. We describe various frameworks for criminal justice as a multi-door arena, of which the plea bargaining is but one of several possibilities. In our review, we emphasize consensual elements, the place of the search of truth, and the role of the judges and other stakeholders. We outline the different paths that France and Italy have taken as incorporating adversarial and inquisitorial elements to increase efficiency. The French system made gradual modifications and remained inquisitorial by nature. Aside from the more recent integration of proceedings without trial inspired by plea bargaining, it has developed doors of abbreviated trials where the investigation stage is minimized. This has resulted in a different version of the vanishing trial—the vanishing investigation. The Italian system, on the other hand, has announced a drastic transformation to an adversarial framework of trial, while adopting mainly proceedings without trial. This shift has not resulted in a vanishing trial phenomenon, and currently, the full adversarial-type trial remains the main door in Italy. We describe the sequence of transformations of these systems and emphasize the significance of this contemporary patchwork of doors in terms of the role of the judges and the possibility of implementing a conflict resolution criminal justice perspective.