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How Do the Courts Create Popular Legitimacy?

Erik Sofranko

Posted on July 11, 2020 18:34

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Faith in the legitimacy of the legal system depends on procedural fairness.

According to Tom Tyler and Justin Sevier’s research article “How Do the Courts Create Popular Legitimacy?,” it is fair to assume that people place high value in fair proceedings because they believe that fairness in the procedures is more likely to lead to an accurate verdict and deliver justice. This includes the appropriate punishment being delivered for those guilty of wrongdoings.

They make the argument that an adversarial system is more effective in leading to the truth and justice because the role of the court in this trial system is to be a player that judges the prosecution and defense impartially. An inquisitorial trial involves the court in the investigation of the facts. Their work shows that pre-trial bias effects on verdicts are less likely when the trial is adversarial after creating a pre-trial bias in experiments.

Sevier provides a comparison between the American adversarial system of resolving legal disputes with the inquisitorial model favored by foreign nations in terms of procedures affecting outcomes. Litigants have different views on the way these two systems play out because the outcomes with either system can be different based on biases of the court players. In the inquisitorial system, attorneys do not have much control over the flow of evidence and are also not hired by litigants to be their biased advocates.

Under this system, litigants believe the outcomes are more accurate but not as just. On the other hand, the adversarial trial system allows for litigants to hire attorneys to be their advocates in front of judges, so litigants view this system to provide for more justice but less accuracy.

More research suggests that in an adversarial trial system, the facts that are used in the trial are not as accurately reflected in the total consideration of all of the facts in the underlying case. Unfair biases that they identified in the adversarial trial system include presented evidence at a trail being more likely to favor the disadvantaged party in the case. They identified that this is not the case in inquisitorial trials as these trials usually more accurately portray the true nature of the actual evidence and facts in the case. In this way, they acknowledge that the adversarial procedure could be associated with inaccuracy.  

The goal of litigants is to effectively present evidence in a trial that will help them influence the decision maker into coming up with a fair verdict. They argue that the adversarial trial would provide the most non-biased outcome because the litigant has a chance to control the presentation of evidence, unlike in an inquisitorial trial in which the court is involved and is no longer an unbiased referee. This is the system that the participants in trials view as being more likely to produce just verdicts. 

Erik Sofranko

Posted on July 11, 2020 18:34

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