What is Adjudication?

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Adjudication is a final ruling or judgment in a legal dispute, or the process by which a legal dispute is resolved.

🤔 Understanding adjudication

Adjudication is the final decision in a legal dispute, made by a judge or other outside party who weighs the arguments and evidence from both sides to decide how the dispute should be resolved. The term can also refer to the process for resolving legal disagreements. Adjudication proceedings typically revolve around monetary matters or other nonviolent infractions, as opposed to criminal trials over violent incidents like assault. Adjudication may be used to resolve disputes between private parties like companies or individuals, or disputes between private parties and public officials. In business, adjudication is often used in disputes with regard to insurance or bankruptcy.


One real-world example of adjudication happens when a refugee from another country enters the United States and requests asylum. There are legal requirements that asylum seekers must meet to be granted asylum, such as having a legitimate fear that they’ll be harmed in their native land because of their race or religion. An immigration judge or other adjudicator listens to the asylum seeker’s claim and decides whether the person should receive asylum.


Adjudication is like a parent deciding on punishment after a teenager comes home late from a party…

When a teenager comes home late from a party, it’s up to their parents as to how to handle the infraction. The parent may decide to ignore it, or to let the teenager off with a warning. The parent might also ground the child or even send them off to military school if there is a long-standing pattern of rule-breaking. The parent’s decision is like adjudication.

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What is adjudication?

Adjudication refers both to a legal process for resolving conflicts between two parties, and to the final decision handed down by a court or adjudicator.

The adjudication process can vary depending on the type of dispute and the parties involved, but typically, adjudication does not involve a jury. Instead, a judge, arbitrator, or other neutral party listens to both sides’ arguments and makes a judgment based on those arguments and relevant evidence.

Adjudication proceedings generally deal with conflicts between two businesses, or between an individual and a government agency or company. They deal with monetary or other nonviolent issues; they’re different from a criminal trial before a jury over violent infractions like assault.

What are some examples of adjudication?

One example of adjudication occurs during bankruptcy proceedings.

When someone borrows money and isn’t able to repay their debts, bankruptcy may allow them to eliminate their debts or restructure their payments to make them manageable. For this to happen, the debtor generally must present their financial situation to a bankruptcy court, which determines whether the debtor can receive bankruptcy protection or must continue paying their bills.

Another example is a health insurance company’s consideration of claims filed by policyholders. An adjudicator at the insurer reviews a claim, examines the documentation from the patient and/or the medical professional who provided the treatment, determines whether the treatment is covered by the patient’s policy, and approves or denies the claim.

The process used by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is a form of adjudication. The NLRB mediates disputes between employees and their employers, protecting workers from unfair dismissal or dangerous working conditions.

When workers try to form a union, the NLRB adjudicates the election process, helping count votes, determine the results, and certify a union if the workers vote in favor of one.

What is the purpose of adjudication?

The purpose of adjudication is to resolve legal disputes quicker and less expensively than other methods. Jury trials and arbitration can take a long time and are often costly.

Typically, adjudication is used in civil disputes between two parties, such as businesses, individuals, or government entities. Adjudication isn’t used when one party accuses another of committing a crime; those disputes are resolved in criminal trials.

For example, in the U.K., construction adjudication helps resolve disputes between building companies, like disagreements over the builder’s time to complete a job, or defects in the construction. Builders use adjudication less frequently when it comes to more severe issues such as negligence or breach of contract.

What types of disputes are resolved through adjudication?

Adjudication can resolve many types of disputes involving different parties.

Between private bodies

Small claims court is a basic example of adjudication, for minor issues or disputes between two individuals that don’t involve large amounts of money.

Though the specifics vary from state to state, in small claims court the two parties involved state their case for a judge and provide any evidence they have to support their claim. After hearing the arguments and reviewing the evidence, the judge makes a decision, describing each person’s rights and obligations.

For example, in a dispute between former roommates, roommate A may have to pay a portion of their unpaid rent while roommate B must agree to return personal belongings to A.

In many states, businesses can also file cases in small claims court. In some scenarios, like a renter’s dispute with a property manager, the adjudication process involves an individual and a business.

Between public bodies

In the United States, the Supreme Court may handle the adjudication of disputes between public authorities, such as state governments. If two states have a disagreement or if there is a dispute between the federal government and a state government, the Supreme Court adjudicates.

One example of this kind of dispute is a territory dispute. If two states claim the same piece of land, it’s ultimately up to the Supreme Court to resolve the dispute.

Between individuals and public bodies

The process of obtaining a security clearance for access to classified information is an example of adjudication between an individual and a public organization.

The National Background Investigations Board oversees investigations for security clearance, and an investigator examines the application and looks into the applicant’s background, and then adjudication begins. Usually, the agency that sponsored the applicant and requested the investigation reviews the information that’s been provided or discovered, and decides whether to offer clearance.

What is the adjudication process?

The adjudication process varies from one situation to another but typically follows a similar pattern.

First, one party involved in the dispute must raise the issue. This usually involves filing paperwork and information regarding the conflict with a court or the party responsible for adjudication. The adjudicator then either agrees to decide the case or asks the party to resubmit the matter with additional information.

Once an adjudicator agrees to resolve a dispute, both parties must gather evidence and prepare arguments.

For example, in a dispute involving a renter and landlord, copies of the lease and correspondence are required. Adjudication involving insurance companies will involve copies of medical bills and insurance policies. Either party may ask witnesses to testify.

Then, the adjudication process moves to a hearing where both parties submit their arguments and evidence to the adjudicator.

Finally, the adjudicator hands down a decision outlining what each party is entitled to and what each owes the other.

What is the difference between adjudication and arbitration?

Arbitration and adjudication are similar processes but have a few key differences.

To go through an arbitration process, both parties in a dispute must agree to arbitration and agree to the arbitrator they will use. The process is often informal, but the arbitrator’s decision is final and usually legally enforceable.

Arbitration sometimes helps keep disputes confidential and can also resolve them quickly, but both parties must generally pay the arbitrator for their services.

Adjudication is generally more formal than arbitration, but it is also typically binding and works at a relatively quick pace compared to traditional litigation at trial, which can take time to schedule and can last weeks or months. Typically, adjudication is public and doesn’t involve paying the adjudicator.

In cases where adjudication involves bringing an issue to court, the people involved in a dispute don’t need to agree to adjudication; they can be compelled to appear.

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