In episode 76, we welcome Tom Tyler as our guest. He is a psychologist and professor at Yale Law School. This highlights the paradox in the legal academy, where much of the law is dependent on beliefs about psychology, yet it is seldom based on actual psychological research. Tom mentions the significance of trust in the legal system and its central role in discussions within law schools and the field of law. They emphasize that trust is a crucial component of legitimacy and that the ability of the legal system to function effectively relies on the trust the public places in legal institutions.
He explains that historically, the legal system relied on a sanction-based model, threatening punishment to ensure compliance. However, behavioral science research has shown that building trust between the public and legal authorities is a more effective approach to gaining compliance and cooperation. Trust allows for a more cooperative relationship between the population and law enforcement, leading to an increased willingness to cooperate, provide information, and engage with the community, which aids in crime control. The concept of procedural fairness plays a significant role in building trust in legal authorities. People want to be treated with dignity, and respect, and have decisions and policies explained to them. Research suggests that procedural fairness is more important in determining trust in authorities than the actual outcomes of their decisions. Additionally, trust is not solely about neutrality and rule-based procedures, but also encompasses relational aspects, such as sincerity, benevolence, and taking into account the needs of the people being dealt with.
Tom argues that trust in legal authorities leads to not only compliance but also contributes to building the viability and strength of communities. A trust-based system promotes engagement, social connections, and active participation in community governance and activities. This, in turn, can reduce the need for constant surveillance and policing, making the community more self-regulating and self-sustaining. He notes that implementing procedural justice in policing and courts has shown positive outcomes in various communities. Improving the internal climate of law enforcement, as well as how officers are treated by their superiors, can positively impact how they treat the public, ultimately leading to enhanced procedural fairness and trust in the community.
Tom argues that procedural justice is a widely accepted and agreed-upon concept across different ethnic, cultural, and economic groups. It is seen as a universal feature that fosters trust in legal authorities. While primarily studied in advanced industrialized societies, the principles of procedural justice have been found to hold true in various contexts.