Wikipedia:Arbitration rationale

Rules of ArbitrationEdit

The Arbitration Committee judges cases according to the following guidelines, which are applied with common sense and discretion, and an eye to the expectations of the community:

  • Established Wikipedia customs and common practices
  • Wikipedia's "laws": terms of use, submission standards, bylaws, general disclaimer, copyright license.
  • Sensible "Real world" laws

Former decisions do not form binding precedent — although we do try to be consistent within reason.

It would be very difficult to decide in advance, for all policies, guidelines, suggestions, etc, which are official, which are not official, so we've chosen for a flexible approach.
This means that it's up to the community to decide policy, and it's up to us to enforce it (and only in particularly bad cases). The arbitrators didn't want to get into the role of creating policy.
We debated precedent as a rule, but decided this would cause problems: we'd make bad decisions based on precedents, and we'd make bad decisions because we wanted to avoid setting a precedent. In any case, we expect to get things wrong to start off with.

Jurisdiction of the CommitteeEdit

The Arbitrators reserve the right to hear or not hear any dispute, at their discretion. The following are general guidelines which will apply to most cases, including some sense of reasoning behind each guideline; however, the Arbitrators may make exceptions. These guidelines may change over time:

  • The Arbitrators will hear disputes that have been referred to it by the Mediation Committee.
  • Where a dispute has not gone through Mediation, the Arbitrators may refer the dispute to mediation if it believes that mediation is likely to help.
We see mediation generally, and Mediation in particular, as a vital part of the process, and not something that should be circumvented lightly; it is our belief that we should be a court of last, not first, resort, and that the resolution of complaints go through due process.
There is presently (2005) not a great deal of active mediation infrastructure; however, some sort of mediation between disputants will often be a sensible course, and the Arbitrators may strongly encourage them to seek it out.
  • The Arbitrators will occasionally request advice on whether to hear a particular dispute from Jimbo Wales.
Our experience being slight, and Jimbo's being significantly more extensive, having been the entire system of government in years past, we may well seek his advice on some matters where we are not sure whether we should hear them.
  • The Arbitrators will primarily investigate interpersonal disputes.
This is because the Committee believes that most disputes that it will be asked to oversee will be inter-personal ones, as it forsees that most article disputes will be able to be solved through other means, and that other disputes, such as those about electoral process, are beyond its abilities and authority to oversee.
  • The Arbitrators will not hear disputes where they have not been requested to arbitrate.
The Committee sees itself as a judicial body in the style of English Common Law, rather than a proactive team of independent prosecutors.
  • The Arbitrators will hear or not hear disputes according to the wishes of the community, where there is a consensus.
The Committee seeks to be part of the community, and not to be seen as handing down judgment from on-high, divorced from the community's viewpoint.
This section has yet to have been invoked.


The initial solution to most problems will be to issue an Arbitration Decree. For example:

  • "User X, you are making unhelpful edits to article A. Stop it, and take a broader lesson from this as you edit other articles."
  • "User X, you are making personal attacks on a wide variety of pages. Don't do that, personal attacks are inappropriate."
  • "User X, limit your reverts to article A to one per day."
  • "User X. refrain from editing this group of articles."

The second option will be to require that a user does not edit Wikipedia for a given time frame: up to thirty days to start with, up to a year in severe cases. These may be enforced by, for example, sysop blocks on IP addresses and usernames. Such bans may be appealed to Jimbo Wales, who retains the right to veto such decisions.

In due course, the arbitrators will review the possibility of additional software-based security measures, but will not request such features at the present time, relying instead on decreed remedies.


The Committee will work in the following way:

  1. We plan to take evidence in public, but reserve the right to take some evidence in camera in exceptional circumstances.
  2. Each Arbitrator will make their own decision about how much personal information about themselves they are willing to share, both publicly, and with the rest of the Committee.
  3. Arbitrators with multiple accounts on Wikipedia will disclose the usernames of those accounts to the rest of the Committee, but are not required to disclose them publicly.
  4. Initially, we will keep our deliberations private, based on a semi-formal vote amongst Arbitrators. However, both Fred Bauder and The Cunctator have expressed strong distaste for this option, so the Arbitrators are far from unanimous on this point.
  5. We will make the rationale for all our decisions public, based upon our private deliberations.
The Committee feels that being heavily observed, as would be the case if people could read our thoughts as we were writing them, reduces our ability to brainstorm, table radical ideas, and, in general, hinder our flexibility of thought. Further, we feel that public discussion is liable to reduce the Committee's cohesiveness, encouraging factiousness.
Also, being in public makes certain types of discussion impossible - discussing the idea of whether some user is a reincarnation, for example, would be impossible to do publicly, as it would be incendiary and potentially libellous. Another facet to this is the lengths to which some people have been known to take conflicts, rising to the level of death threats; by having private discussion and group declarations, we hope to decrease the chance of retaliation against individual arbitrators.
The Committee, further, would like to point out that we aren't actually a government; our practical control over events of Wikipedia is minimal - any and all rulings that we make are effected by the general Wikipedian populace, and if we make unpopular decisions, or are seen to be operating unfairly in any way, they merely won't be heeded.
The Committee is also stuffed with realists, who feel that there will be private discussion whatever is actually decreed, and enforcing one would merely drive the private discussion 'underground', where certain members of the Committee would have had the benefit of more information than others, so unfairly unbalancing our overall decision-making process.
Finally, we feel that what's important is the product, not the process - our decisions and rationale given, and not the details of how we came to the conclusions we did.


The arbitration committee accepts requests for arbitration from anyone. The arbitration committee will decide whether to accept cases based on its jurisdiction, as described previously.

The arbitrators will accept a case if four arbitrators have voted to hear it. The arbitrators will reject a case if one week has passed AND four arbitrators have voted not to hear it. Individual arbitrators will provide a rationale for their vote if so moved, or if specifically requested.

We believe most cases will be self-evident anyway, we don't believe coming to a consensus over our reasons is a good use of our time.

See alsoEdit