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:
- Tom R. Tyler, Procedural Justice and the Courts, 44 Court Review 26 (2008).
- Kevin Burke & Steve Leben, Procedural Fairness: A Key Ingredient in Public Satisfaction (An American Judges Association White Paper), 44 Court Review 4 (2008).
- David Rottman, Procedural Fairness as a Court Reform Agenda, 44 Court Review 32 (2008).