Longstanding Public Concerns About Court Fairness and Inefficiency Continue a Recent NCSC Survey Concludes

Source: National Center for State Courts, January 2016

Survey results of 1,000 register voters were recently released by the National Center for State Courts from an 0ctober 26-29, 2015, study. The survey also included an oversample of 200 African-Americans.

Sixty-one percent of those surveyed said the term “political” described courts in their state, compared with 34 percent who felt it did not. Among those polled who had direct experience with courts, the majority said they believe that judges make decisions based on their own beliefs and political pressure.

“The result of these persistent concerns is that the courts are seen as a last resort rather than a preferred means of resolving disputes,” the report said.

The National Center for State Courts partnered with research and strategic consulting firm Gerstien, Bocian, and Agne to conduct a similar survey for the last three years.

“As we have seen over three years of national research, the courts remain the most trusted branch of government, and Americans recognized and value their unique role in protecting individual rights,” the report said. “But persistent concerns about customer service, inefficiency, and bias are undermining the public’s confidence in the courts and leading them to look for alternative means of resolving disputes or addressing problems that would have previously led them to the court system.”

Other key findings include:

  • Support for the courts is stronger than in the heart of the recession, but shows signs of softening.
  • Such concerns may be making the public more welcoming to alternatives to traditional dispute resolution.
  • African-Americans express significantly less faith in the courts than the population as a whole. The survey found that less than a third of African-Americans believe that courts can provide equal justice.
  • Americans express reservations about lawyers, but recognize their value. Among those polled, roughly 91 percent said you are more likely to win in court with a lawyer by your side.
  • The public demands more self-sufficiency. About 56 percent said that “if at all possible, I would prefer to handle a problem myself rather than have a lawyer represent me.” And, 63 percent of Americans said the courts aren’t doing enough to empower regular people to navigate the court system without an attorney.

“Looking to the future, there is a clear need for state courts to better understand and then respond to the needs of those who enter the court system,” the report concluded. “But Americans are not looking for a complete overhaul; they believe technology can play a critical role in helping courts better communicate and serve the people within the system while also increasing efficiency and hopefully lowering costs.”