“Panel formation” designates the procedure for assigning judges to a panel entrusted with adjudicating a case. At the Federal Administrative Court (FAC), the rules of procedure and the regulations of the Court’s six divisions specify the criteria to be taken into account in assigning judges to a panel. The relevant criteria may differ from one division to the next depending on the subject-matter and the applicable statutory rules (e.g. time limits for processing).
Automatic and manual components
As a rule, panel formation at the FAC has two components, one automated and the other manual. For the automated part, the Court relies on a software programme, called “Bandlimat” in internal parlance. This software contains input such as judges’ working languages, degrees of occupation, and areas of expertise. Longer leaves of absence can also be taken into account. The list of regulatory criteria to be considered is longer, however, and not all requisite case-assignment criteria can be mapped in the software. The manual component is therefore part and parcel of the panel formation process. Cases are assigned or re-assigned manually, for example, in connected proceedings (consolidated proceedings), or on ground of recusals, withdrawals (e.g. retirements) or sudden absences.
Assignment based on objective criteria
Manual assignments or re-assignments are inherent to the system because panel formation cannot be automated in every single case. Whether automated or manual, panel formation always relies upon objective and set regulatory criteria.
Political party affiliation disregarded
A judge’s political affiliation is deliberately disregarded in panel formation and is not a recorded criterion. Taking political affiliation generally into account would be inconsistent with judicial independence.
Pioneering role and continuous development
The case-assignment software is an important and useful panel formation tool for the Federal Administrative Court. The FAC’s degree of automation in this context is significantly more advanced than that of other Swiss courts. The FAC plays a pioneering role and is committed to ensuring the continuous development of the panel formation system as a whole, with a view to maximising the potential of automated case distribution.
The Control Committees, as the bodies with ultimate oversight, as well as academia and the media are also interested in this panel formation system. Several supervisory reports and scientific articles have been produced, some containing recommendations for further development. Insofar as they are pertinent and feasible, the Court will take these recommendations into consideration.