What’s It All About?   4 comments

So what’s  procedural fairness thing, anyway? Professor Tom Tyler has identified four basic components that comprise procedural fairness and drive public opinion about the courts:

1. Voice:  litigants’ ability to participate in the case by expressing their viewpoint;

2. Neutrality:  consistently applied legal principles, unbiased decision makers, and a transparency about how decisions are made;

3. Respect:  individuals are treated with dignity and their rights are explicitly protected; and

4. Trust:  authorities are benevolent, caring, and sincerely trying to help the litigants—a trust garnered by listening to individuals and by explaining or justifying decisions that address the litigants’ needs.

Now that you know what it is, is it important? It sure seems to be. An extensive 2005 study in the California state courts found that perceptions of procedural fairness were “the strongest predictor by far” of public confidence in the California court system. Simply, if litigants or members of the public perceived that the courts provided fair treatment in the aspects Tyler identified, their overall opinion of the court system was much more positive. This was true across different ethnic groups, across gender, and across income and educational levels.

In addition, procedural fairness plays an important role in improving compliance with court orders. Several studies strongly suggest that when litigants perceive that they’ve been treated fairly, they are more likely to comply with the court orders that follow.

For a useful introduction to procedural-fairness principles, three articles from Court Review, the journal of the American Judges Association, will do the trick:

[Steve Leben]

4 responses to “What’s It All About?

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  1. Looking forward to seeing this site grow….what a great idea

  2. I agree with the four components and applaud the site. I’ve been a civil litigator who has logged an awful lot of time before courts and juries in the 37 years that I have practiced and I have seen the positive and negative side of judicial demeanor. I am curious about an apparently growing trend and its impact on the public perception of courts notwithstanding all good efforts to address the four points. That trend is contested partisan elections for judicial positions. Where issues and money supporting those issues drive candidacies and the elections become acrimonious as they are already in some states, what will happen to public perception of the bench? It seems to me that the public must perceive the bench to be neutral and unbiased if judges and the system are to retain their credibility. We don’t yet have that problem in Minnesota but efforts have been made and are continuing to change the system.

  3. The importance of procedural fairness – especially given the highly stressful and emotional dealings people have with courts were first brought to my attention by the work of David Wexler and Bruce Winick (therapeutic jurisprudence).

    This work by Kevin Burke, Steve Leben, Tom Tyler and others turns much of that theory into practices able to be immediately implemented on a significant scale. I especially appreciate the white paper by Kevin Burke and Steve Leben.

    A view I cannot emphasise enough is that this focus on procedural fairness is one that needs to be of core concern from the lowest to the highest levels of the court. What I think works the best is regular communication skills training for every staff member.

    • Thanks so much for your kind comments. Your suggestion of communications-skill training for all staff is a good one. We have sometimes recommended a listening-skills program called Learn to Listen by HRDQ (hrdq.com).
      Steve Leben

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