Procedural Justice and Tim Tyler

I’ve long thought that justice should be considered a goal in itself, that treating people fairly is an important part of society, regardless whether we can measure the outcomes of that justice.  People want to be treated fairly.  I’ve based those arguments only on the words in our nation’s founding documents and on political philosophy.

So I’m very excited to learn about the research by Tim Tyler and others to measure the importance of procedural fairness.  Yale Professor Tom Tyler’s large body of work demonstrates that people’s perception of how fairly they are treated by legal authorities matters; procedural justice has significant, long-term effects on people’s lives.

He contributes to this resource from the National Center for State Courts.  He mostly researches criminal law, but he has written about access to justice.  Here is also a good summary and a video.

The benefits of procedural justice that he discovers include long-term compliance, which may seem more appropriate for criminal justice at first, but it is also very important for decision-making processes for eviction.  If an unfair procedure makes future compliance less likely, then being screwed in housing court may make it less likely that a person complies with landlord/tenant law in the future.  How many tenants who trash an apartment before leaving were previously cheated out of a security deposit or unfairly evicted and have lost faith in finding fairness in the legal system?  Is a landlord more likely to illegally lock-out a tenant if they feel like they haven’t been heard in eviction court?  It’s easy to imagine how eviction courts that are experienced as unfair could start a vicious cycle.

Tyler identifies four main aspects of procedural fairness, and claims these four factors will determine whether a procedure is determined to be fair.

  1. Voice – whether the person can tell their story and participate (actually, voice isn’t itself a factor in procedural fairness, but it influences all three of the other factors)
  2. Neutrality – whether the decision-maker is perceived to be neutral
  3. Respect – whether the person is treated with respect
  4. Trust – whether the person trusts the decision-maker and others

We need to bring Tom Tyler’s research into eviction courts.  That starts with determining ways to measure justice, not just economic outcomes for some participants.

For an interesting historic take on how fairness is viewed, here is a Professor Ian Morris lecture at the London School of Economics.

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