Is it running an efficient court—the volume of cases you’ve cleared each quarter? Or do you look at recidivism by individual defendants, or maybe the number of return trips to court by parties in a contested dissolution case?
In fact, studies dating back to the 1980s have consistently shown that what matters most to parties to litigation (even more than outcomes, costs, or delays) is whether they thought the process was fair. Procedural justice outweighs all other factors related to peoples’ satisfaction with the court system.
In 2014, a study published in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry considered the importance of procedural justice in domestic violence cases. Jenna Calton and Lauren B. Cattaneo of the Psychology Department at George Mason University examined victims’ subjective experiences with the court system (including judges, court staff, and others) in both civil and criminal cases.
All of the study participants were female, all had come to court following the arrest of their current or former intimate partners, and all were seeking a civil protection order. The women in this study had been victims of serious and severe physical violence before coming to court; many of their cases involved a weapon or sexual assault, and many had been abused repeatedly.
The researchers measured both objective data (such as case outcomes) and subjective factors, which included the victims’ assessments of their quality of life, whether they experienced depression, and the likelihood they would use the court system in the future, as well as their perceptions of the overall fairness of the court procedures.
The results of Calton and Cattaneo’s research demonstrate the power of procedural fairness. They found that “[r]egardless of case disposition and repeat abuse, procedural justice predicted increased victim wellbeing, indicating that fair court processes may help victims by positively affecting their mental health . . . even the victims who do not receive CPOs or see convictions in a criminal case against an abusive partner may benefit from the court process.”
The greater a victim’s sense of procedural justice, the more likely she would be to return to the court system if she were re-abused. In other words, if a party felt validated and supported by the court process—even if that process delivered an adverse result—that party reported a better quality of life and an intention to seek help in the future.
This research can translate into real actions that courts should take to improve procedural justice in civil protection order and criminal family violence cases. How? The National Center for State Courts has an excellent web-based learning module on procedural fairness at proceduralfairness.org.
A series of short videos in the “resources” section highlight parties’ experiences of a “multitasking judge” who signs a stack of routine orders while conducting a hearing on whether to remove a no-contact order; a “computerized judge” who, during a termination of parental rights hearing, consults a computer, a tablet, and a smartphone; a court staffer who interacts with an upset litigant in the court office; and, a judge presiding over a high-volume docket of initial hearings.
The Center for Court Innovation offers resources on procedural justice at courtinnovation.org. A specific publication, Integrating Procedural Justice in Domestic Violence Cases, provides examples of best practices and can be found at courtinnovation.org.
Judges can also ensure their staff members are trained in the complexities and dynamics of family violence and understand how to best interact with both alleged victims and accused parties at all stages of a case.
Parties, witnesses, and alleged victims need to understand the court process and feel that their voices have been heard. Litigants want their cases decided by a neutral arbiter who treats them with dignity and respect. It is easy to understand why parties may feel that the process is unfair if they experience anything less.
Ind. Code 5-2-9-6 (b) requires clerks to maintain a separate file for Confidential Forms (PO-0104), which accompany criminal and juvenile no-contact orders, civil and child protection orders, and workplace violence restraining orders.
Ind. Code 5-2-9-7 strictly limits who may access the information on PO-0104. Defendants, respondents, and their attorneys are not allowed to access this information.