Academic journal article Law & Society Review

Procedural Justice and the Assessment of Civil Justice in Japan

Academic journal article Law & Society Review

Procedural Justice and the Assessment of Civil Justice in Japan

Article excerpt

In analyzing the data from a structured interview survey with Japanese litigants of civil trials, we examined the relationships between their perceptions of outcomes and process of the trials, responses to the trials, and evaluation of the judicial system. The results showed that both favorability of trial outcomes and procedural fairness of trials increased satisfaction with the trial outcomes and evaluation of the judicial system. Satisfaction was largely determined by perceived favorability, while the evaluation of the judicial system was largely determined by perceived procedural fairness, suggesting a justice bond effect that justice fortifies people's societal commitment. Consistent with procedural justice theories, the perception of procedural fairness was increased by the sense of control and the appraisal of relational factors, though both were affected by favorability.

For the civil judicial system to work as a social device for conflict resolution, it is crucial that it is trusted by people and gives satisfaction to those who use it. In analyzing the data from an interview survey with Japanese litigants, we attempted to examine whether perception of procedural fairness evokes positive responses to civil trials and the judicial system in a non-Western society.

Perception of Procedural Fairness for Civil Trials and Its Determinants

A naive theory predicting litigants' responses to civil trials is a self-interest model. A trial decision often divides litigants into winners and losers. If the winner is always satisfied with the trial while the loser is always unsatisfied with it, the outcome of the trial may decisively determine the litigants' responses to the trial and the judicial system. Against this naïve model, justice researchers have argued that the perception of justice or fairness influences litigants' responses to trials (e.g., Lind & Tyler 1988; Thibaut & Walker 1975). They assume that when a litigant perceives a trial as fair, he or she is likely to be satisfied with the trial, accept the decision, and regard the judicial system as legitimate. The researchers suggest that trust in the judicial system is not impaired even among the losers if they perceive a trial as fair.

When analyzing litigants' experiences in courts, researchers have especially focused on the litigants' judgment of the procedural fairness of trials. Both laboratory studies conducted by Thibaut and Walker (1975), who used students as participants, and field studies conducted by Lind and Tyler (1988; compare with Lind et al. 1990), who used people involved in real conflicts, have found a positive association between the perception of procedural fairness and a satisfaction with conflict resolution. For example, Lind et al. (1990) interviewed participants who were involved in four different procedures for conflict resolution (trial, court-annexed arbitration, judicial settlement conference, or bilateral settlement). Although satisfaction with an outcome was strongly determined by the subjective perception of its favorability, the researchers found that satisfaction was increased by the judgment of procedural fairness, and this effect was commonly seen among the participants, regardless of the procedure for conflict resolution.

Regarding the determinants of the perception of procedural fairness, Thibaut and Walker (1978) argued that litigants view those procedures that give them control over the litigation process (e.g., the presentation of evidence and arguments) as fair because high process control is seen as leading to fairer outcomes. In analyzing participants' responses to different procedures of conflict resolution, Lind et al. (1990) indeed found that among the process perception variables, those measuring the sense of control are most closely and most consistently related to outcome satisfaction.

In addition to control, Lind and Tyler (1988) have argued that the apparent fairness of a procedure depends largely on symbolic features of the procedure. …

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