Perceptions of Fairness in the Justice System: A Cross-Cultural Comparison

Article excerpt

Research comparing the adversarial and inquisitorial justice systems has consisted primarily of American participants reading descriptions of each system in their "pure" form, rather than descriptions that allow for the flexibility with which these systems are actually employed. In this study, participants from the Netherlands and the United States read short, realistic descriptions of each system and answered questions about the fairness of both procedures. Results indicated that while the adversarial system was rated significantly higher on the likelihood that all evidence will be presented, and the likelihood that both the victim and the defendant will get an opportunity to voice their cases, people showed a clear preference for their own system. This bias toward one justice system over another may be due to the cultural values reflected in each system.

The ability of any legal system to perform effectively rests on the public's belief that it employs fair procedures that result in just outcomes. Discerning what components people deem necessary to achieve fairness is vital for improving justice systems throughout the world. With the growth of international law it has become increasingly important to look beyond one's own system and examine the strengths and weaknesses of justice systems in other countries. Although different procedures are used around the world, two of the most commonly used legal systems are the adversarial and the inquisitorial. The adversarial system is used in countries such as the United States, Great Britain, Australia, and Canada. In this procedure, the judge is a neutral director of proceedings, lawyers are responsible for developing their evidence and arguing the case, and decisions are made by either a judge or a jury. In the inquisitorial system, on the other hand, the court compiles evidence, the judge plays an active role in searching for arguments, lawyers play a more restricted role, and there is no jury. This system is used in many European countries, including the Netherlands, Germany, and France.

Early research on procedural justice compared adversarial and inquisitorial procedures, and generally found that the adversarial system is strongly preferred to the inquisitorial (e.g., Houlden, LaTour, Walker, & Thibaut, 1978; LaTour, Houlden, Walker, & Thibaut, 1976; Walker, LaTour, Lind, & Thibaut, 1974). It has been hypothesized that this preference is due to the greater control afforded participants in the adversarial system. However, the majority of studies examining these two systems were limited because they used only American participants. There has been very little recent research on this topic, creating a need for additional studies that compare participants from different cultures.

In addition, Sheppard (1985) has suggested that the descriptions of the procedures used in past research were presented in their "pure" forms, instead of how they are actually employed in each system. Previous research employed mock trials or descriptions that explicitly emphasized whether or not the judge has control over the presentation of evidence and the decision. These studies generally portrayed the inquisitorial system as not providing an opportunity for disputants to voice their cases, while in reality, disputants are allowed to present their case to the judge or judges. The present study used less rigid, and therefore, more realistic descriptions of the two systems and participants from two different countries to evaluate perceptions of the fairness of adversarial and inquisitorial procedures.

METHOD

PARTICIPANTS

The participants for this study were 120 English-speaking individuals (70 males and 50 females) between the ages of 17 and 63 (mean = 27.8). Sixty participants were from Amsterdam, Netherlands, and 60 were from Chicago, Illinois. None of the participants was compensated. Data were collected in May and June, 2001.

MATERIALS AND PROCEDURE

Short descriptions of the procedures used in the adversarial and inquisitorial systems were created. …