How Litigants in Dutch Courtrooms Come to Trust Judges: The Role of Perceived Procedural Justice, Outcome Favorability, and Other Sociolegal Moderators

By Grootelaar, Hilke A. M.; van den Bos, Kees | Law & Society Review, January 1, 2018 | Go to article overview

How Litigants in Dutch Courtrooms Come to Trust Judges: The Role of Perceived Procedural Justice, Outcome Favorability, and Other Sociolegal Moderators


Grootelaar, Hilke A. M., van den Bos, Kees, Law & Society Review


Judicial dispute resolution is an aspect of our legal system that atters a great deal to citizens involved in disputes. Judges are important representatives of societal institutions that need citizens' trust to operate effectively (Tyler 2006). They are, therefore, justifiably concerned with the public's confidence in their functioning. In the current paper, we examine how people come to trust judges and provide support for the idea that trust in judges is elicited by litigants' experience of proceduraljustice.

We studied the procedural justice-trust relationship among real litigants involved in actual cases at real court hearings. These litigants had real outcomes at stake such as traffic fines, and imprisonments, and were understandably preoccupied with issues such as whether they would receive social benefits the next month or whether they would be sentenced by the criminal law judge. We will argue that these outcome concerns can influence the role perceived procedural justice plays when litigants form their judgments of trust in judges. More specifically, we believe that whether people benefit from the judge's decision (i.e., outcome favorability) and what people have at stake (i.e., outcome importance) moderate the proposed relationship between perceived procedural justice and trust in judges.

We conducted our study in the Netherlands, a country that is relatively understudied in the international research literature on law and society. After all, many or most studies on perceived procedural justice and trust in law have been done in the United States. By studying Dutch court hearings, our study adds to the debated cross-cultural generality of procedural justice findings (Brockner et al. 2001; Kidder & Muller 1991; Lind et al. 1997). Van den Bos et al. (2010), for example, found meaningful crosscultural differences in reactions to perceived procedural justice between participants from the United States and the Netherlands, revealing that being better off than others is a norm that tends to be more salient in the United States than in the Netherlands (see also Hofstede 1998). Social comparisons, such as being better off than others, play an important role in how people respond to their outcomes (Adams 1965; Van den Bos et al. 2006), which raises the question of whether outcome favorability will moderate the association between perceived procedural justice and trust in judges, as has been suggested on the basis of studies done in organizational and other contexts (for overviews, see Brockner 2010; Brockner & Wiesenfeld 1996).

In three different types of law cases among 483 litigants at court hearings of the district court of the Mid-Netherlands, we aim to better understand how and when procedural justice and outcome concerns matter both separately and in an interactive sense. We extend the current knowledge in three ways. First, we provide support for the existence of a positive relationship between procedural justice and trust in judges in a real-life courtroom context in the Netherlands. Second, we demonstrate how important sociolegal variables, in particular outcome-related variables such as outcome favorability and outcome importance, might moderate this relationship. Third, in addition to providing empirical insight about the relationships between procedural justice, trust in judges, and outcome concerns, we aim to conceptually clarify how to measure these concepts in real-life courtroom settings.

Trust in Judges

Trust in legal authorities such as the police and the courts is important, in part because it results in public cooperation with these authorities and builds institutional legitimacy and compliance with the law (Tyler & Huo 2002; Tyler & Jackson 2014). Legal authorities are justifiably concerned with the public's confidence in their functioning and compliance with their decisions. In the United States, for example, the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) frequently carries out nationwide surveys to measure public confidence and trust in the courts (NCSC 2005, 2015). …

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