People’s attitudes to the justice system are complex, and vary depending on whether the focus is confidence, satisfaction, trust or legitimacy, and what part of the system or aspect of performance is in question.
The most important drivers of people’s attitudes to the justice system are personal experience. This includes direct contact with justice system professionals, seeing or hearing from local police, experience and perceptions of the local neighbourhood, and stories about the experiences of other people.
It is crucial that people feel that the justice system, as represented by people such as the police, demonstrates ‘procedural justice’ - that is that they value and care about individuals and the community, and behave fairly, respectfully, neutrally and take seriously the things that matter to people. Research shows that experiencing such procedural justice leads to higher satisfaction, confidence and perceived legitimacy of justice system professionals, which in turn is associated with people being more compliant and cooperative when they interact with the justice system.
For parts of the justice system that fewer people have direct or vicarious personal experience of, such as sentencing, people make judgements from other information available to them, which may include media sources. The impact on people’s attitudes depends on which media sources they use, and the degree to which information from the media aligns with their existing attitudes and experiences.
Four broad types of activity have been found to improve public attitudes: procedurally fair treatment of system users, visibility of police and engagement with the public, improving neighbourhood conditions, and written communication.
The key message from the evidence is that people’s personal experiences of the justice system and of their local area is the most important influence on their attitudes to the justice system. Factors such as knowledge about the system, and the media, do not have the large direct influence that some might expect. The evidence shows that building responsive relationships between justice system professionals and individuals and communities can improve attitudes to the justice system, and by doing so may also improve people’s engagement with the justice system and their wider behaviour.